While some police departments have had to consider furloughs and hiring freezes, the Chamblee Police Department has maintained a ratio of one officer per 500 residents.
“Our people have free time to drive through neighborhoods, talk to businesses and be visible,” Chamblee Police Chief Marc Johnson said.
The staffing level of Chamblee’s police force is a major factor in the city’s decrease in crime. In 2007, Chamblee reported 138 violent crimes and 732 property crimes. Last year, there those numbers dropped to 105 violent crimes and 698 property crimes. The bulk of the property crimes in 2010 were 546 thefts.
The drop in Part 1 crimes–major criminal offense classifications tracked nationwide by the Federal Bureau of Investigation–is a trend seen throughout DeKalb County. According to statistics compiled by The Champion Newspaper from the county’s 10 municipal police forces and from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program, violent crime has decreased 27 percent since 2008 while property crime has gone down approximately 18 percent.
Last year, there were approximately 3,340 violent crimes in the county. Of that number, there were 97 murders or non-negligent manslaughters, 205 rapes, nearly 2,200 robberies and 877 aggravated assaults. In the property crime category, there were approximately 10,200 burglaries and 5,240 vehicle thefts.
The fact that the Chamblee Police Department has a full force gives its 45 officers the opportunity to try to find ways to prevent crime in the city of 15,500 instead of being stuck in a reactive mode, Johnson said.
And when the city added 6,000 residents and 1.5 square miles through an annexation this year, Chamblee added 12 officers to the department.
“Our city council has always given a very high priority for public safety,” Johnson said.
“I empathize with the DeKalb police department,” Johnson said. “I imagine when you see a [DeKalb County Police] car pass by, they are going to a call and have one or two pending.”
But William Miller, DeKalb County’s public safety director, said the county police department has used selective and directed patrolling to help decrease crime. Increased police moral under the leadership of DeKalb Police Chief William O’Brien has also helped.
Miller said the department is also using crime statistics to “massage the data to determine crime trends.” A study of shootings a few years ago pinpointed apartment complexes along interstate highways as troubled areas.
With that information, the department began coordinating with the Georgia State Patrol and other law enforcement agencies to provide enhanced enforcement around those complexes. The department also met with apartment complex managers to promote video cameras and improved fencing, Miller said.
“We wanted to let people know we were not going to tolerate that type of behavior,” Miller said.
Crunching the numbers
The numbers given to The Champion by the DeKalb County Police Department are significantly different than those on file with FBI Uniform Crime Reporting program.
For example, statistics given to The Champion show that in 2008, in the county police jurisdiction, there were 112 homicides or non-negligent manslaughters, 226 rapes and 11,100 burglaries. For the same year, FBI records show 100 homicides or non-negligent manslaughters, 184 rapes and 11,474 burglaries.
Miller said the difference is due to when the numbers are reported. The county reports the prior month’s totals on the fifth of every month to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The GBI compiles all the data for the state and conveys that information to the FBI.
Often, the county has to change the category of a crime. For example, if a call comes in as an aggravated assault but is later downgraded to an attempted aggravated assault, the county would change its statistics.
“But we can’t change what the GBI has,” Miller said.
There is another difficulty in comparing the crime data: the DeKalb County Police Department does not track most Part 1 larcenies, according to Mekka Parish, police department spokeswoman. The only Part 1 larcenies tracked by the county police are vehicle thefts and charges of a suspect entering a vehicle.
According to its website, the UCR Program defines larceny-theft as “the unlawful taking, carrying, leading, or riding away of property from the possession or constructive possession of another.”
“We don’t track that in-depth,” Parish said.
Nonetheless, county police records show that theft was lowered from approximately 9,300 in 2008 to nearly 8,100 in 2010. During that same time, there was a slight decrease in shoplifting, from 2,200 to 2,000.
Between 2007 and 2009, violent crime in Clarkston dropped from 77 to 61, while property crimes dropped from 343 to 281.
Clarkston Police Chief Tony Scipio said crime is decreasing in the city as the department aggressively enforce code and traffic violations. That’s the benefit of Clarkston being a small city.
“We’re able to be visible and out there,” Scipio said.
The image of crime in Clarkston is skewed by the amount of crime just beyond the city’s borders, Scipio said.
Much of the crime reported in the news media as being in Clarkston is not really in the city limits. “When you watch the news you see DeKalb County Police cars,” Scipio said.
Staffing helps Decatur
Staffing has been a key to lower crime rates in Decatur, Chief Mike Booker said.
“We’ve been fortunate,” Booker said. “We’ve gotten more help.”
For the first time in several years, there are only a couple of openings among the 47 sworn positions in the Decatur Police Department.
Because of its staffing, the department formed a visible traffic unit and placed extra officers in Decatur’s downtown business district. The department holds monthly in-house crime meetings to review crime trends and problems and there are plans to create a bicycle patrol.
Officers also regularly attend community meetings where they collect information about problems in the city.
“You can’t prevent it all from happening,” Booker said. “But our officers are very proactive.”
In 2007, there were 65 violent crimes in Decatur. Last year, that number dropped to 35. In that same span, property crimes decreased from 728 to 577.
“I’m very happy with what we’ve done,” Booker said. “We’re very proud of our efforts.”
Implementing social media
In Dunwoody, the police department has been recognized for its use of Facebook and Twitter to keep residents informed about crime.
Although the county’s newest police department only has 24 months of crime data to analyze, Dunwoody Police Chief Billy Grogan said there is a downward trend in his city. Crime has dropped 3.7 percent in the first quarter of 2011 as compared to the same time period in 2010.
Grogan said he hopes to keep the momentum through the summer months, which are typically times of higher crime.
The crime prevention efforts in DeKalb County are aided by a regular meeting to the DeKalb County Police Chiefs Association, Grogan said
“We really work closely together to try to disseminate information and share training opportunities,” said Grogan, the association’s president.