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Posted: January 28, 2014 10:00 p.m.

Serious crime on the rise in Conyers

Serious crime in Conyers increased nearly 8 percent in the past year, Police Chief Gene Wilson reported at the city’s Winter Retreat in Stone Mountain.

Wilson also proposed a variety of solutions, from targeted enforcement to more security cameras to increased police salaries with better incentives.

Theft and violent crime in 2013 was up 7.9 percent from 2012, from 1,073 reports to 1,158, Wilson said. And those so-called Part I crimes are trending up so far this year, too.

Major factors in the increase are cellphone thefts, car break-ins and prostitution-related crimes in hotels, he said.

The prostitution boost is leading to rapes and robberies of the prostitutes and especially worries city officials.

"It’s a matter of time before somebody gets shot or cut," City Manager Tony Lucas said.

Wilson agreed, saying some cases easily could have become murders. Conyers Police will begin doing stings to make prostitution customers fear that if come to town, "they’re not sure if they’re going to meet Bambi or Bob the policeman," Wilson said.

Crime rates typically go up and down with the economy, Wilson noted. The economy is improving, but recent federal and state cuts to unemployment and welfare benefits are pushing more people into crime, Wilson said.

The police department aims to increase its network of security cameras, which currently has 10 locations around the city. New security cameras are planned for 2014 in the following locations: Jiffy Lube area in Conyers Village on Highway 138; the Chevron station at Highway 138/Flat Shoals Road; the Sonny’s BBQ sign at Ga. Highway 20 and Highway 138; the Target parking lot; and the area of West Avenue at Dogwood Drive. Coordinating the police camera system with an upgrade camera system inside city schools is another goal.

The police staffing budget was a major point of discussion. Wilson proposed a new salary structure that will slightly increase police pay and also build in incentives for officers to seek better education, training and promotions.

Wilson said he is concerned about the force’s ability to attract and retain quality officers.

"We’re kind of getting the third- and fourth-stringers who are applying," he said, joking that he has considered arresting some applicants rather than hiring them.

The current force, however, is one of the best he’s been involved with, he added.

The current police salary budget is $2,742,843. The new proposed structure would boost it by a total of $116,808.

Mayor Randy Mills was receptive to the general idea. "We want to retain and recruit the best and brightest," Mills said. The Winter Retreat, which sets the city’s entire Fiscal Year 2014 agenda, continued all weekend at the Evergreen resort at Stone Mountain.

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