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In five years, Gwinnett homicides have plummeted

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Gwinnett County, an area that's become very familiar with positive accolades and statewide recognition, hit a more ignominious mark in 2007.

As homicide rates perennially climbed, officials blamed the spike -- capped off by a record 50 killings that year -- on the county's exponential growth. But through decades of residential boom, the homicide rate remained relatively constant with just a handful of killings per year.

A sharp increase in 2000 begat 18 homicides in 2001, a number that, at the time, seemed high. Time has shown it to be the lowest tally of the last decade.

But time has also shown 2007, Gwinnett's bloodiest year, to be a sort of tipping point. Statistics recently compiled by the Gwinnett County Medical Examiner's Office show each year since has seen a decline, including 2011.

As of Monday, the ME's office counted 28 homicides in 2011, a tally including both murders and "justified killings" such as self-defense shootings or police-related shootings where no illegal activity was found. The Thursday morning shooting death of a 20-year-old at a Snellville house party pushed that number to 29, one less than the 30 reported in 2010.

Homicide tallies have dropped more than 40 percent in the last half-decade, and have returned to levels not seen since the dawn of the new millennium.

"We're thrilled by it, and we want to see this trend continue," Gwinnett County police spokesman Cpl. Edwin Ritter said. "It may be a surprise because every time you turn on your TV, you see Gwinnett, but that's because we're transparent. It's generally a safe county."

And homicide statistics aren't the only ones going down.

Gwinnett police -- the third-largest department in the state, monitoring Georgia's second most populated jurisdiction while using roughly 730 officers -- noted year-to-date decreases in all but two of 11 significant crime categories.

Violent crimes like aggravated assault (down 9.2 percent), rape (18.4) and aggravated battery (8.5) all saw marked declines in 2011 as compared to 2010. So did robberies (13.7), arson (13.3) and burglaries (about 10 percent decrease combining residential and commercial).

Incidences of entering auto and motor vehicle theft both decreased by about 20 percent this year.

So far in 2011, generic theft charges have seen a slight increase, as have DUIs.

Police officials attribute the wide-ranging drops, however, to a reallocation of personnel after certain specialized units were disbanded. Since 2008, the department has moved roughly 30 officers from the parks unit, quality of life unit and crime prevention unit to precincts, where they now answer calls for service and remain more visible to the public, Ritter said.

That same year marked the first time killings had decreased since 2004 and came on the heels of an historically violent 2007, when Gwinnett police agencies worked, on average, about one homicide per week.

"We're putting more officers on the street, which allows them to be more proactive," he said. "When you're reacting to everything, things get sloppy."

With the reallocation, the onus to combat crime has shifted to precinct commanders, who are tasked with developing initiatives suited to each specific area of Gwinnett.

The dip in reported criminal activity hasn't translated to a respite for the Gwinnett County District Attorney's Office, which, like many county and city agencies, has grappled with funding issues.

"We're still dealing with the cases that were in pipeline when the downward trend started to appear," said District Attorney Danny Porter. "We're not seeing a reduction in our workload."

Porter said enforcement in the drug arena and with gangs has started to drive out those populations and reduce violent crime. He said his office handled a slight uptick in the number of prosecutable homicide cases over 2010.

"Homicide is one of those things I've always said you can't really predict when it's going to go up or down," he said. "Frankly, I've been surprised with the economic downturn we haven't seen a spike in economic crimes (such as theft and burglaries). From our office, we're seeing more complaints of white-collar economic crime."

Porter surmised that better-trained, more tech-savvy officers could be contributing to lower crime rates. Analysts trained to pore over phone records as evidence are especially key, he said.

Porter's office has 105 employees, about two-thirds of them attorneys and investigators. While no furlough days are expected in 2012, none of those employees has been awarded pay raises or cost-of-living increases in four years, which Porter foresees as a long-term problem.

"It's going to make it tough to retain talent," he said, "because that bright-eyed idealism only lasts so long when there are other opportunities out there."

Comments

JV 2 years, 11 months ago

Not to slight this article or the tremendous job the police and DA are doing. However, this decrease in violent crime is also a national trend. And many have shown the decrease in crime coincided with an increase in the number of privately owned guns—particularly handguns and detachable magazine semi-automatic rifles. For example, Americans bought over 400,000 AR-15s in 2009, and trends in AR-15 sales over the last few years suggest a similar number for 2010. States with stricter gun laws have more crime.

2011 U.S. Population: 312,740,458
Gun owners in the U.S.: 70-80 million - 25.56% 40-45 million own handguns

2011 U.S. Households: 117,500,000
American households that have with ownership: 40-45% 52.9 million

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DavidBrown 2 years, 11 months ago

JV, I would be nervous living next door to someone with your perspective. I am proud to say that I have never held a gun in my hand. I have always trusted God to provide for my safety.

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smatt65 2 years, 11 months ago

David. Not to disparage your faith, I to believe God gives me certain protections. But as far as protection from criminals, what God gives me is the common sense to defend myself.

I agree with JV. Look at all the times in the past year would be robbers were shot by store clerks in the Atlanta area. Kennesaw GA is a good example. Every household in that town is required by statute to own a functioning firearm and their crime levels are one of the lowest in the country for a populated area.

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DavidBrown 2 years, 11 months ago

Give me one verse among the 31,103 verses in the Bible that gives approval for owning a firearm. Give me one example of Jesus or his followers owning a firearm.

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jack 2 years, 11 months ago

Ignoring the obvious fact that there were no firearms in existence at the time, people in that era were known to possess slings, spears, staffs, etc.; which they used with great effectiveness. One could imagine that had firearms been available, they too, would have been used in much the same manner as today.

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SeekTheTruth 2 years, 11 months ago

Agree with Jack. Also, there are references of people defending themselves: - So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone - And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand over the sea, that the waters may come again upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.

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SeekTheTruth 2 years, 11 months ago

With Jack (and the others) on this.... There are references of people defending themselves: - So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone - And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand over the sea, that the waters may come again upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.

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R 2 years, 11 months ago

Cars, trucks and SUVs aren't listed anywhere either ...

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Kent 2 years, 11 months ago

I give thanks to God that he gave me the intelligence and skill needed to use a firearm, in fact many firearms, to protect me and my family from the thugs who would take away my property and life if given the chance. Those who wait for the police and Danny Porter to protect them while an intruder is breaking down the door is a dollar short and a day late. The police do not have a constitutional duty to protect you from harm. That duty is your personal responsibility. Sorry, praying to Jesus the last minute before becoming a victim will probably not save you. A properly placed bullet will.

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Tammy52 2 years, 11 months ago

In biblical times, they didn't own firearms per se, but did carry swords and weapons of many kinds (yes, it IS the same thing). It's legalistic to compare apples to oranges. Many references to carry a sword. Work on the heart, but prepare for the tangible world since you live in it. The epistles talk about obeying the law of the land and being in the world but not of it. It's a personal conviction that I do not believe the Lord condemns either way. If a person has that conviction and they are a christian, who are you to judge them? Protecting your home is a great responsibiltiy. Most likely, being covered in prayer, you may never have to use it, but evidence that you are willing to use any and all weapons provided while in this world might deter someone from breaking in and save many lives in the process.

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BigRed 2 years, 11 months ago

I wonder if this downward trend in violent crime might also have something to do with the fact that Gwinnett participates in the 287g program with ICE. All arrestees are given an immigration screening and those that are deemed illegal are deported. Hundreds of illegals have been deoprted over the last few years. This accounts for many perps and many potential victims. It may also be partially attributed to private gun ownership. "An armed society is a polite society."

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SomeLady 2 years, 11 months ago

You might live in Georgia if... your local news website has an argument going on about whether God wants you to have a gun. That's funny, I don't care who ya are.

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jack 2 years, 11 months ago

Upon second look, methinks DavidBrown may have had tongue firmly planted in cheek in his posts. If so, well played sir.

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wiseguy 2 years, 11 months ago

In New Orleans after Katrina, A old man was sitting on the roof of his house with water all around him, A rescue team in a boat came by but the old man said no God will help me as the water got higher a helicopter came to rescue him but the old man said no God will help me. Within 2 hours the old man drowned. He asked God why he didn't save him and God said I sent you a boat and a helicopter......Some times God wants us to help ourselfs.

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