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City of Duluth talks crime increases, new police unit

DULUTH — The city of Duluth held a meeting for homeowner’s associations Wednesday, discussing recent crime increases and what the Police Department is doing about it.

While Duluth Police Chief Randy Belcher pointed to the most significant crime increases statistics-wise coming from an inordinate amount of shoplifting at Wal-Mart, he also informally announced the existence of a new task force.

For the last three months or so, the five members of the department’s new burglary suppression unit have been cracking down.

“They’re called the burglary suppression unit, but the more I think about it they really should be called the crime suppression unit,” Belcher said. “They’re getting drugs, they’re getting child molesters.”

Since its inception, the unit has made 16 arrests, including a recent run of four burglars in two days, Belcher said. Members patrolling in unmarked cars, the original intention of the unit was to stop burglaries. Belcher estimated there had been about a 10 percent increase in those crimes recently.

As far as crime statistics go, Belcher’s research showed that Duluth had staked claim to the least crimes per capita of any Gwinnett city from 2005-07. It relinquished that title in 2008 and 2009, with a majority of the difference being accounted for by larceny occurring at Wal-Mart.

In 2008, shoplifting at Wal-Mart jumped from 31 to 268, then astronomically again to 506 in 2009.

“Even if you take the Wal-Mart thefts out, there’s a little bit of an increase,” Belcher said. “But look at the economy. You’re going to have an increase when the economy stinks.”

While HOA presidents asked questions covering topics from DUIs to meth labs to traffic tickets, Belcher also discussed his plans to propose a city-wide network of surveillance cameras at major intersections, a la places like Buckhead and Athens-Clarke County.

He plans to present that proposal to the city council at its first work session of 2011.