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By the Numbers: A deeper look at crime in Newton County
Violent crimes in the City of Covington

In less than two months, there have been five murders in Newton County.

On May 19, Markice Samuel Harris was stabbed to death on Boogers Hill Road in Oxford.

On June 19, Enrique Trejo was shot and killed on Lower River Road in Covington.

Over the Fourth of July holiday weekend, there were three murders: Aquavius Cole, who was struck by a vehicle on July 3 in Harmony Place in Covington; Julien Wyant, who was shot on July 4 in the Orchard Cove Apartments in Covington; and Tony Butler, who was shot on July 6, also in the Orchard Cove Apartments.

If these facts are not daunting enough, these numbers gathered from the Newton County Sheriff’s Office (NCSO) may be.

According to research done by Sgt. Michael Cunningham of the NCSO, there were seven murders in Newton County in 2015, which makes the five in two months this year alarmingly high, especially with it only being July. According to District Attorney Layla Zon, the escalating number of murders is a trend that began in the middle of last year.

“We’ve had an extraordinary amount of homicides since June of last year, where we’ve noticed a trend,” Zon said. “Yes there were only seven last year, but look at the years before that.”

Five years ago in 2011, there was only one murder in Newton County, and only four in 2006. The highest murder count in recent history occurred in 2008 when the county saw 10 murders, according to crime statistics posted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

“We did have one year where we had a lot [2008],” Zon said. “The economy tanked here about that time, but if you go back and look, they weren’t the types of crimes that you would associate with an economic downturn. They were just evil crimes.”

While that was eight years ago, this year’s numbers show the county’s murder rate could potentially match or top 2008’s numbers.

The state’s crime stats per 100,000 population (Newton County has a population of 105,000 people) have hovered around six murders per year between 2006 and 2014, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

In 2014 there were 5.7 murders per 100,000, 5.5 in 2013, 5.8 in 2012 and 5.5 in 2011. Ten years ago there were 6.4 murders per 100,000 people, according to the GBI.

While the exact reason why there has been such an uptick in violent crimes in Newton County remains unclear, Zon believes there is a common theme.

“In each of these circumstances – and I’m just talking about the last three to four that we’ve had, which would go back to the one against Mr. Trejo – there’s just a lack of respect for life,” she said. “That’s one of the things that’s evident. It’s just hard to answer [what’s causing it] if you just look at the last four.”

Not only are the number of murders increasing, but the ages of the suspects seem to be decreasing. There were two 16-year-old suspects this year: Antavion Love, who was arrested in connection with the death of Trejo, and Quran Ali Knighton, who is the alleged perpetrator for the stabbing of Harris.

“That is young, and we’ve not had two in such proximity in time [before now], so that’s very disturbing,” Zon said.

More than murder on the rise

While murder numbers seem to be high, the numbers are also increasing in another area: assaults with firearms.

According to research done by Officer Allan Seebaran of the Covington Police Department (CPD), there were 11 of these crimes in the city of Covington as of July 12, seven in 2015 and 13 in 2014. There were only four in each of the three years prior.

“You can see that they’re not tremendous increases, of course,” said Covington Police Chief Stacey Cotton. “We’re only talking numerically just a few numbers higher. With that said, just this past year in 2015, we answered almost 40,000 calls for service, which is the highest we’ve ever had. So we expect everything to kind of go up.”

According to Cotton, most of these crimes are committed by people who live outside of the city limits of Covington.

“Approximately 60 percent of the people we are dealing with now on our crimes are coming from outside of Covington and even outside of Newton County, so I believe that plays an impact on the area of violence,” Cotton said. “We arrested about 1,500 people total in 2015, and about 60 percent of those people were not from the city of Covington, and most of the locations of the arrests were in commercial retail areas, not in our neighborhoods.”

The number of aggravated assaults in Newton County, which appear to remain relatively consistent over the years, also seems to be quite high at this time in the year. While there were 99 in 2015, the current total as of July is 67.

Statewide, there were 216.2 aggravated assaults per 100,000 people in 2014, according to the GBI.

In a press release, Sheriff Ezell Brown stated a number of reasons for why he thinks crime is on the rise in the county.

“I believe some of the contributing factors include the lack of employment, not having the manpower to interact and patrol in those high crime areas and the lack of community and religious based programs,” Brown said. “Many of us have strayed from being rooted in faith or in some higher calling. I believe when a person has nothing to believe in they become dangerous, to themselves and others. Therefore, loss of love and respect for human life has lowered the moral standards in many ways.”

What to do now

When discussing prevention, Cotton mentioned the CPD’s efforts to stay on top of certain issues before they escalate into bigger problems.

“When we have complaints and concerns with it being neighborhoods or commercial retail areas, we have to address them, and that’s what we do,” he said. “When we see things on the increase or when we see them become a problem, we try to deal with them early. Our job is to show a heavy presence there and deal with issues where the crimes are occurring.”

Zon also believes the community should get and stay involved in efforts to keep crime out of the county.

“There are general discussion among community leaders, church leaders, law enforcement about preventing crime and mentoring youth,” Zon said. “There are some great organizations, like the Washington Street Community Center, here in our community that try to match adult mentors with youth to not only help them with their educational studies but to also be mentors and help them make responsible decisions and set goals and steer them in the right path.

“We, of course, need more of that in our community,” she said. “With young people in particular, we’re going to have to provide guidance, training, teaching. It’s not just about them not respecting other people’s lives, I don’t think they can respect their own lives or themselves if they’re carrying on and conducting themselves in the way that they are.”

Sheriff Brown also echoed those sentiments.

“I feel the district’s commissioners, community leaders and all of us should become partners in fostering programs in the communities within the districts,” he said. “Reason being, as many times as I have said before, we as law enforcement officers cannot do it alone.”

This is part of an ongoing look at crime in and around Newton County by The Covington News.