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Arrests dipped in 2020 as COVID barred minor offenses from jail
Despite murder surge, Statesboro crime rate fell
W Mike Broadhead
Statesboro Police Chief Mike Broadhead

The Statesboro Police Department made 40% fewer arrests in 2020 than the year before. The decline has been attributed mostly to a two-month pandemic shutdown on many local activities followed by a prohibition on booking nonviolent misdemeanor suspects into the Bulloch County Jail.

Meanwhile, the reported incidence of property crimes in Statesboro dropped by about 10%, and the combined total of violent crimes dropped 7%. Because four types of violent incidents – robberies, aggravated assaults, rapes and homicides – count equally in this total, this decline was possible despite a surge in homicides to more than double the toll from the deadliest year in the previous decade.

SPD Chief Charles “Mike” Broadhead presented charts and graphs of these numbers to City Council with the department’s 2020 annual report Tuesday afternoon.

“Arrests were down 40%. You know that the jail was closed to us for misdemeanor arrests for about six months last year, and so that accounts for a lot of that decrease,” he told the mayor and council.

In 2020, the SPD made 1,180 arrests – instances in which people were actually booked at the jail – down from 1,983 arrests in 2020.

Broadhead added that Statesboro police “struggled with some issues” because of the jail policy. For example, ordinarily officers could go to a loud party, “find the guy who’s just stirring up trouble, running his mouth,” and take him to jail, thereby sending a message to others in the crowd and calming things down.

“We couldn’t arrest that guy, and so some of those parties spun up a little hotter than we would like them to,” Broadhead said.

But the jail is mostly open now, he said, and as the pandemic begins to recede, he expects arrest numbers “to reflect back to their 10-year averages.”

In a follow-up interview, Broadhead said that the prohibition on jailing nonviolent suspects extended to probation and parole warrants, which he called “a significant part of what we do.” The restrictions were put in place by Sheriff Noel Brown as part of an effort to protect inmates and jail employees from COVID-19.

The Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office eased restrictions on jail bookings beginning in December but still encourages agencies to issue citations for nonviolent misdemeanors, BCSO Chief Deputy Bill Black said Friday. He noted that arrests of people accused of misdemeanors involving weapons or family violence were never blocked.

Driver’s license violations, shoplifting and trespassing are examples Broadhead gave of misdemeanors for which suspects could not be jailed in the latter half of 2020.

Citations down too

But the jail restrictions “are not the whole picture,” he acknowledged. “For a couple of months last year, there was almost nobody moving around, so overall enforcement was down as well. It’s not simply just a jail issue. It’s also that COVID changed patterns and behaviors.”

April and May had been the slowest months, he reminded the mayor and council.

The number of citations issued by Statesboro police officers decreased 31%, to 4,240 tickets in 2020, while the number of warnings they gave, 4,317, was down 40% from the previous year.

But a close balance between citations and warnings is something Broadhead likes to see year after year. It indicates that officers “are using their discretion appropriately” and issuing a written warning when it’s not necessary to write a ticket or make an arrest, he said.

But more DUI’s

One SPD arrest count that increased in 2020 was the number of people charged with driving under the influence. With 127 DUI charges in 2020, the number rose 15% from 110 in 2019. The previous three years’ DUI arrest totals were 190 in 2016, then 162 in 2017 and 162 again in 2018.

“DUI arrests have been declining over the last decade,” Broadhead observed. “I think that really is the rise of Uber (and Lyft) and people making good decisions that way, so those advertising campaigns might be working long-term, and I believe that this year, again, could be a pandemic thing, that more people were day-drinking.”

But the 2020 uptick could also be a chance occurrence, “statistics being where they are,” or a result of where and how officers patrolled, he said.

With traffic also greatly reduced last spring, Statesboro police responded to 1,433 vehicle crashes throughout 2020, down from 1,743 accidents in 2019 and 1,944 wrecks in 2018.

Surge in killings

One of Broadhead’s graphs showed how 2020’s alarming rise in homicides, and a seemingly contradictory downturn in two nonfatal violent crimes, robbery and aggravated assault.

During 2020, nine people died in homicides within the city limits. The past decade shaped up like this: zero killings in Statesboro in 2010, one in 2011, two in 2012, two in 2013, four in 2014, one in 2015, two in 2016, three in 2017, three in 2018 and two in 2019.

“We typically see two, three homicides, as many as four in 2014, and then a spike to nine in 2020,” Broadhead said. “We’ve spent a lot of time analyzing that and trying to find out what’s going on. I don’t have a good explanation, honestly. These nine homicides are not connected to each other, all over town in different places. …”

“I’m happy to say that we’ve made arrests in eight of those homicide cases, and the detectives are working really hard to try to stay on top of that,” he added.

Other violence

The number of rapes reported in the city limits rose from 12 in 2019 to 16 in 2020. This is a recurring peak, with 16 rapes also reported in Statesboro in 2017 and previously in 2012.

But the number of robberies has declined, from 40 in 2019 to 35 last year, after previous peaks of 50 robberies in 2017 and 58 back in 2011. In 2020 there were also fewer aggravated assaults, 61, than in 2019, when there were 66. But those two years were Statesboro’s worst and second-worst years for aggravated assaults of the 11 years in Broadhead’s graph.

Together, the downward trend in robberies and the one-year downturn in aggravated assaults pulled the violent crimes total lower.

Property crimes

In the property crimes category, the number of simple thefts in Statesboro last year, 718, was lower than in 2019, when there were 805 thefts, but higher than in 2018, when there were 651. The number of these thefts has trended generally downward from highpoints of 1,118 thefts in 2010 and 1,061 in 2013.

The number of burglaries, 108 in 2020, was the lowest in more than a decade, down from a high of 304 in 2011. The number of motor vehicle thefts has remained roughly steady for years, with 35 in 2018, 34 in 2019 and 34 again last year.

Broadhead began his presentation with data on the department’s continued struggle to attract and hire new officers.

He concluded with a discussion of Fusus, a law enforcement video sharing service for which the SPD is seeking participation by businesses and apartment complexes with video cameras. The Statesboro Herald will report on that next week.

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