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In first half of 2013, homicides incredibly low

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Homicide-wise, 2012 was not a good year for Gwinnett County.

The tally of 41 -- including justified and police-involved shootings -- was the second highest annual total in the county's history. It marked the first spike in homicides since 2007, Gwinnett's bloodiest year on record.

Through June, 2013 is looking quite different, having seen only eight official homicides. That is a very, very good thing.

"It's certainly encouraging," Gwinnett County police spokesman Cpl. Jake Smith said.

2013 Homicides

Below are 2013 police cases officially declared homicides by the Gwinnett County Medical Examiner’s Office. Statistics include justified shootings and those involving police officers.

• Jan. 4, Snellville PD: In a controversial case, Darrell Johnson is shot and killed by his daughter’s boyfriend. Authorities ultimately rule the shooting self-defense.

• Jan. 26, Lilburn PD: Phillip Sailors, 69, shoots and kills 22-year-old Rodrigo Diaz, who was lost and turned around in Sailors’ driveway. Sailors reportedly feared a crime was about to be committed.

• March 1, Gwinnett PD: Courtney Egbert allegedly murders his wife inside their Dacula home. The couple reportedly had had an argument about TV shopping bills.

• March 30, Gwinnett PD: Stephen O’Reilly, the son of a Virgin Islands senator, reportedly stabs and kills a roommate. O’Reilly absconded but turned himself in in Florida; motive is unknown.

• April 10, Gwinnett PD, officer-involved shooting: After several hours of holding four Gwinnett County firefighters hostage inside his Suwanee home, Lauren Holman Brown is shot and killed by a SWAT team member.

• April 22, Gwinnett PD, officer-involved shooting: Home invasion suspect Eric Andrews, 24, is shot and killed by a police officer after reportedly raising a tire iron toward him.

• May 13, Gwinnett PD, officer-involved shooting: Rodney Pike, 38, wanted out of Forsyth County, is killed by an officer after reportedly attempting to flee, striking police with his vehicle.

• June 6, Gwinnett PD: The body of 33-year-old Dewayne Jackson is found inside a Norcross hotel. One suspect is detained; another, Tony “Polo” Craig, remains on the lam.

The year's eight homicides (as of Saturday afternoon) run the full spectrum. One has already been determined self-defense, and another will go to trial to figure it out. Two have been domestic (husband-wife, roommate-roommate). Three were officer-involved shootings. Only one, the June 6 slaying of Dewayne Jackson in a Norcross motel, is technically deemed "crime-related."

There may eventually be a ninth: The body of Donald Singer, 57, was found inside the garage of his Duluth home in March, wrapped in a pile of blankets and ammonia wafting in the air. No charges have been filed and the medical examiner's office has technically ruled the cause Singer's death "undetermined," not homicide.

Even nine, though, would be a far cry from halfway to more typical Gwinnett totals. From 2007 to 2012, homicide counts of 50, 38, 36, 30, 28 and 41 have been recorded each year, respectively.

The county almost certainly won't continue on its current pace -- it's all too unpredictable -- but 18 homicides in a full year would likely be the low mark since Gwinnett became one of metro Atlanta's most populous, urban and socioeconomically diverse areas.

"There's several things that could be factors," Smith said of the decrease. His department covers the vast majority of the county and has had only six homicides in 2013, three of them officer-involved.

"It's hard to give credit to any one particular thing that we've done."

Two particular types of homicides, typically pretty common in Gwinnett, have been completely absent this year, Smith pointed out: gang-related and apartment killings. Both, at least theoretically, have explanations.

GCPD believes several suspects arrested toward the end of 2012 "were parts of larger groups" or gangs. It's "certainly possible" that violent crimes like murder have waned in their absence, Smith hypothesized.

Gwinnett County police also launched last year their "crime-free multi-housing program," which educates apartment managers and residents on how to spot, limit and report crime in their communities. Exact statistics weren't available, Smith said, but "at least anecdotally it's been effective."

"That's something we're going to continue," he said.