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."