Serious crimes in Covington declined in 2011 for the second straight year, but the changes were a mixed bag as thefts and sexual offenses increased, while assaults and property thefts declined.
Covington had 1,346 Type 1 crimes, the most serious category, in 2011, down from 1,377 in 2010 and 1,602 in 2009, according to statistics sent to the FBI annually. Police Chief Stacey Cotton presented the statistics to the Covington City Council Monday.
There was one homicide in 2011, after none in 2009 and 2010. Cotton said decades ago the city would routinely see half a dozen or more murders a year, but the numbers have been on the decline recently.
Cotton didn't have any definitive reason for why murders were down, but he said most homicides are not premeditated and many are related to domestic situations where two people get in an argument and one person kills the other. The fact police now are required by law to intervene in domestic situations may have had some effect over the years.
"Back 25 years ago, there was no obligation for police to do anything in domestic situations," Cotton said.
One of the most surprising findings is the rapid decline property theft crimes despite the large number of vacant properties and continued focus on air conditioner thefts. Property thefts were at 435 in 2009 and were nearly halved to 230 in 2011.
"AC thefts are still a big problem, but we're obviously dealing with them a little bit," Cotton said.
Sexual offenses saw one of the largest percentage increases rising from 15 in 2010 to 28 in 2010.
"I believe that people are more aware of the issue and are reporting in higher numbers. The Penn State issue really brings the issue to the forefront," Cotton said in a follow-up email Tuesday.
"Also with the new child advocacy center ‘A Child's Voice' the ability of all of law enforcement to be trained to recognize abuse that maybe otherwise missed. Finally remember that again we are talking about reports not prosecutions and so some of those reports may be unfounded or the false claims but the report is still counted."
Drug crimes, assaults, armed robberies and breaking and entering cases were fairly consistent.
While homicides have declined over the years, armed robberies have increased as Metro Atlanta extended outward.
"People say ‘I'm going to ride out to Covington, or any small town, and they'll have a small police department and I'll be able to get in and get out,'" Cotton said. "When we make armed robbery arrests they are most often not people connected to the community."
Cotton said it can be tough for police to track down out-of-town criminals, because once they leave police are often left without any tips, unless the criminals commit a string of crimes. However, at the same time, out-of-town criminals may not be as familiar with the area and less able to elude police searching for them.
Local criminals have the advantage of knowing an area, including back streets and areas of low patrols, but word of the crime will almost always reach the police through the grapevine as criminals talk about their exploits.
Cotton said the police department is consistently monitoring crime statistics to identify trends and increase the quality and efficiency of its policing.
For the full list of crime stats go to covnews.com.
Increased calls may be good sign
While serious crimes declined, overall police activity increased in 2011, which could actually show the local economy is recovering.
The police department saw a large decline in calls during the heart of the economic recession from 27,930 calls in 2006 to 24,456 in 2008, a potentially counterintuitive trend that Cotton said could stem from the fact that people were leaving Newton County altogether or driving less for shopping and entertainment.
"If folks are not shopping as much, not driving as much, accidents will go down and the number people speeding might be down, because there are simply not as many cars on the road," Cotton said Tuesday.
However, calls have been steadily rising, reaching a high of 29,827 in 2011. While there are more crimes, major and minor, in the mix, many are also traffic offenses, alarm calls or simple calls for assistance from residents who need directions or who have locked their keys in the car.
"We're beginning to see growth out on the Ga. Highway 142 corridor. We've had a couple industries opening, and our call volume numbers are showing people come back to Covington and needing our services," he said.