Data analyzed from the Athens-Clarke County crime report webpage reveals that crime has hit an all-time low over the past decade. Since peaking in 2008, overall crime incidents have decreased 42.8 percent in Clarke County. In total, 20,403 crime incidents occurred in 2008, compared to 11,666 in 2018.
When adjusted for population change, the rate of crime decreased substantially as well. In 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 115,452 residents lived in Athens-Clarke County. In 2017, the population estimate was 125,691. Subsequently, the rate of crime in 2010 was 1448.4 per 10,000 people, and the rate of crime in 2017 was 868.2 per 10,000 people.
However, although crime is decreasing, Athens-Clarke County crime remains above the national average in theft and violent crime.Why It’s Newsworthy: Most of the nation has seen a decrease in crime; however, Clarke County still remains far above the national average. This could possibly stem from the high poverty rate, criminal injustice and government policies.
Megan Bocanegra is a crime analyst at the Athens-Clarke County Police Department. Bocanegra began her career in policing as a 911 operator from California. She moved to Athens a few years ago. Sitting in her office in front of a large, scribbled-on map of Clarke County, Bocanegra described other crime trends she has noticed.
“We have seen overall crime decrease, but lately gang-related, juvenile, and theft from a motor vehicle crime has increased,” she said. She also commented on the most common types of crime. “Theft and property-related crime is usually the highest of any type.”
Traffic Citations Also Decrease
Police are also handing out fewer traffic citations than before, according to the Athens-Clarke County Police Department Assessment Report done by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. It reported that in 2015, the number of traffic citations was 20,091. In 2017, the number fell to 15,320. However, the report also showed that African Americans constitute 35 percent of reported traffic citations despite being only 27.5 percent of the population.
Steve Williams is a member of the Oconee Street United Methodist Church Racial Task Force. The Racial Task Force is a small local group of Athens residents that advocate for racial equality through community events and protests. According to Williams, one job of the Racial Task force is to hold the courts and police accountable for any unfair treatment of people based on race. Williams described cases of people in the community who have been pulled over during a traffic stop for being a minority.
“I am an old white man, I can’t remember the last time I was pulled over, but I know many good people that have gotten pulled over for no apparent reason except for being a person of color,” Williams said.
Bocanegra responded to criticism of police bias.
“My job as a crime analyst is to allocate resources to places that need it the most. Unfortunately, that leads some people to believe that we are targeting certain groups. It is a fine line to walk, but I know the men here are trying their best to engage in positive community outreach,” she said.
While crime and traffic citations have been decreasing, the Clarke County Police Department has undergone changes. Former police chief Scott Freeman resigned in September of 2018. Cleveland Lee Spruill Sr. was chosen as the new police chief Jan. 11, 2019.
Viet Nguyen is a senior at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.