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PROGRESS: Looking for homicide total to rebound in 2013

Staff Photo: John Bohn . Gwinnett County police investigate the scene of a homicide at a home located in the 1200 block of Mill Shyre Way, Lawrenceville Friday afternoon.

Staff Photo: John Bohn . Gwinnett County police investigate the scene of a homicide at a home located in the 1200 block of Mill Shyre Way, Lawrenceville Friday afternoon.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- When it comes to homicides in Gwinnett County, 2013 could do one of two things.

By the end of the year Gwinnettians could be resting (comparably) easy, dismissing 2012's spike in murders as an aberration after four previous years of decline. Or they could be welcoming in a new, bloodier trend.

A total of 41 homicides were reported in the county last year, a number that includes officer-involved shootings and other "justified killings" like those in self-defense. The tally tied the second-highest ever in Gwinnett, marked a nearly 50 percent increase over the year prior and was the first rise since a historically deadly 2007.

All that said, police aren't overly worried.

"It's not particularly concerning," Gwinnett County police spokesman Cpl. Jake Smith said. "(The totals) have kind of come and gone."

After an all-time high of 50 homicides in 2007, the numbers reported by the Gwinnett County Medical Examiner's Office had declined every year since: to 38 in 2008; 36 in 2009; 30 in 2010; and 28 in 2011. The jump to 41 last year was disconcerting, yes, but some fears can be assuaged upon closer examination.

The Gwinnett County Police Department, which covers all unincorporated parts of the county and those cities without municipal police squads, investigated a total of 32 homicides in 2012. That included four fatal officer-involved shootings.

Of the 28 that didn't involved police officers, 21 were either domestic or drug-related, Smith said.

"The majority of those that we see are things like drug dealers robbing each other," he said.

Police have said they did little different in 2012 than they did in previous years of homicidal decline, and they're not likely to change much in 2013.

That said, the county is already off to a much cleaner start to the year.

As of Feb. 11, only two homicides had been reported, one by Snellville PD and the other by Lilburn PD. Both are controversial.

The first homicide of the year came Jan. 4, when a Covington man was shot to death following an altercation in Snellville with his daughter's estranged boyfriend. No charges have been filed against the shooter, but the district attorney's office has yet to make an official decision ruling the incident either self-defense or murder.

The second homicide came in Lilburn, where 69-year-old Phillip Sailors reportedly shot and killed a 22-year-old who was lost and turning around in his driveway. Sailors has been charged with murder while his attorney claims the incident was just a tragic misunderstanding.

The Gwinnett County Police Department had not yet reported a homicide in 2013.

By March 1 of last year, the county's homicide tally had already reached 12.