Originally created 12/03/01

Sheriff blames rise on budget



When cuts in the city's budget caused the Richmond County Sheriff's Office to lose 34 deputies, officials in the department voiced their concerns.

Now with crime on the rise, sheriff's officials say the decreased presence is being felt.

"The loss of police visibility has hurt us," Sheriff Strength said. "We made it known to commissioners that without that visibility, we would have an increase in crime.

"And it has come to pass."

Commissioner Lee Beard said the sheriff's office had to make cuts after funding from a federal grant ran out this year. The U.S. Department of Justice awarded the $3.6 million COPS grant in 1997, which subsidized the salaries of 68 sheriff's deputies.

"Like many things in our budget, we have to cut back when there are no funds for them," Mr. Beard said. "Of course, we want to protect our citizens.

"During the budget process, we're going to be cognizant of that."

This year, the sheriff's office reported 26,605 criminal cases between January and October, compared with 24,295 cases during the same time last year.

"A lot of these (cases) are motor vehicle thefts and misdemeanor offenses - theft by taking, criminal trespass and property damage," said Richmond County sheriff's Maj. Ken Autry.

Compared with rates between January and October 2000, there were 158 more cases of auto theft, 23 more cases of child abuse and 10 more reports of rapes.

Maj. Autry said some categories of crimes have not increased.

For example, homicides are down. There were 26 homicides in Richmond County in 2000. To date, there have been 14 in 2001, a rate not seen in five years, Maj. Autry said.

"This is pretty close to the best year we've had," he said. "If you have one homicide, that's not good, but 14 is a low number."

The lack of police presence might not be the sole cause of a rise in crime.

Kim Davies, an associate professor of sociology at Augusta State University, suggests crimes such as burglary, vandalism and auto theft are not related to the number of police on the street, citing the Kansas City Preventive Patrol Experiment published in 1974.

"In this experiment, some areas received extra patrols, some little patrol and some the regular amount, and there were no statistically significant differences in the amount of crime in each area," she said.

Dr. Davies said other factors that might cause an increase in crime are population and economic decline.

"During positive economic times, we may see a decrease in crime, and now that we are beginning to see an economic downturn (with layoffs), we may expect to see more crime," Dr. Davies said. "The number of crimes per person may be the same. Secondly, an increase in the young male population also can be the reason for an increase in crime.

"This population is often responsible for more crime than other groups," such as women and older men.

Whatever the reason, statistics still show crime is up, and commissioners have taken note.

"The increase in crime shows every person we lost was a person we needed," Commissioner Andy Cheek said. "The administrator (George Kolb) is going through the budget right now, and we'll look at his budget in the next few days."

Crime comparison

A list of crime statistics recorded from January to October of 2000 and 2001.

2000

Aggravated assaults - 143

Armed robberies - 149

Auto theft - 1,016

Burglaries - 1,992

Child abuse (includes molestations) - 213

Domestic violence - 2,226

Homicides - 16

Rapes - 117

2001

Aggravated assaults - 128

Armed robberies - 149

Auto theft - 1,174

Burglaries - 1,861

Child abuse (includes molestations) - 236

Domestic violence - 2,586

Homicides - 13

Rapes - 127

Reach Albert Ross at (706) 823-3339 or albert.ross@augustachronicle.com.