Crime rate down
Data show dip in violent offenses

LAWRENCEVILLE - So far, Gwinnett is statistically safer this year than last.

Gwinnett police have noted "significant decreases" in almost all serious crime categories between the first seven months of 2008 and its historically bloody predecessor.

As of July 23, violent crimes such as armed robbery and aggravated assault have dipped considerably, indicating that specialized units such as a robbery task force are hampering criminal activity, police said.

Specialized units, investigators and rank-and-file officers "have been doing tremendous work to curtail criminal activity around the county," Gwinnett police spokeswoman Cpl. Illana Spellman said. "As a result, there have been decreases in our year-to-year statistics."

Take armed robberies, for example:

Police reported the violent thefts are down nearly 27 percent this year, the most significant drop specified. That's 131 fewer documented armed robberies between this year and last (498 versus 358).

Spellman said officers have concentrated patrols in known sketchy areas, which contributed to the lower robbery count.

Other noteworthy decreases came with carjackings (down 23 percent), aggravated assaults (15 percent), automobile thefts (20 percent) and commercial burglaries (7 percent).

More than 1,400 vehicles were reported stolen in Gwinnett by this time last year. That number is down about 300, statistics show.

"This shows that progress can be made when citizens work together with (police) to significantly reduce crime in our communities," Gwinnett police Chief Charles Walters said.

But other crime totals, including homicides, are on a more even keel.

Gwinnett police had handled 22 homicides - a category that includes both murders and justified killings - as of last week. That's one fewer than last year's count, when a record 50 homicides were recorded in Gwinnett.

Countywide, 26 homicides have occurred so far in 2008 - one more than this time last year, according to the Gwinnett Medical Examiner's Office. Those numbers include slayings handled by municipal police departments.

Spellman said the number of reported rapes - the only sex crime classified as "major" - in Gwinnett is currently "around the same as last year."

Last August, Gwinnett police handpicked several officers to form the anti-robbery task force, a measure to combat a 2007 spike in that crime. On the coattails of that unit's success, police announced the formation earlier this year of a gang unit and task force focusing on drug runners on county highways.

A crackdown on drunk drivers is bearing fruits as well, Spellman said.

Traffic fatalities have dropped 29 percent, from 41 to 29, in the first seven months of 2008. Spellman pointed to a 13 percent rise in DUI arrests (more than 1,400) as the driving force behind the decrease in fatal wrecks.