Despite a surge in murders, the total number of ‘violent crimes’ in Statesboro, as defined by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program, was down almost 20% for the first three quarters of 2020 compared to the same period last year.
Robberies within the city limits from January through September this year were down 40%, robberies in which a gun was used were down 50%, and aggravated assaults were 22% fewer in comparison to the same period in 2019, Police Chief Mike Broadhead recently informed City Council.
But “shots fired” calls – which don’t always involve an actual crime or identified victim – have soared, and seven killings within the city limits from Jan. 1 through Oct. 31 already make 2020 Statesboro’s deadliest year for homicides in more than 10 years. The most homicides in Statesboro in any entire calendar year during the previous decade were four, in 2014.
The agenda for last week’s City Council meeting stated that Broadhead would give a presentation and “discuss the rise of violent crime in the City of Statesboro.” But the information was more nuanced than that.
“I think 2020, we can agree, has been a strange year, as manifests itself in a number of ways,” Broadhead said.
Of course, one thing he was alluding to was the COVID-19 pandemic. It shut down Georgia Southern University for in-person classes from mid-March to August, prompted the temporary closure of restaurants to in-person customers and the complete closure, for several weeks, of bars and some other types of businesses. More people simply stayed home more often.
But a March to May decline in reported crimes of several types was followed by a sudden surge of shootings in June.
For the FBI statistics, the “violent crime” rate is defined as the incidence of four crimes: homicide, robbery, aggravated assault and rape.
Combining the known numbers of those gives a total of 73 violent crimes in Statesboro for the first nine months of 2020, through Sept. 30. During the same period of 2019, the combined total had been 91 violent crimes. So Broadhead noted a 19.78% decrease in violent crime for the first three quarters of 2020, even while acknowledging that seven homicides is “an alarming number to see” with the year not over.
During the first nine months of 2020, 15 robberies were reported to the Statesboro Police Department, down from 25 robberies in January through September 2019. Of the robberies this year through September, seven involved the use of a firearm, down from 14 robberies with guns in the first nine months of 2019.
So those differences amounted to declines of 40% in overall robberies and 50% in robberies with firearms.
Broadhead noted that one of the specific missions of the Impact Team, a joint task force in operation since the summer of 2018, is to drive down robberies in housing complexes. The team consists of three Statesboro Police Department officers and one Georgia Southern University Police Department officer. Three SPD officers assigned as canine handlers are also available to assist the team.
“One thing that was very alarming to me when I arrived in Statesboro was that we’re having these drug rip-offs inside these apartments where people are raising their families, college students are living,” he said. “That’s just creating a situation where violence is being brought into a neighborhood where innocent people are living, so we’ve made a deliberate effort to drive that out of that multifamily housing.”
Since its creation, the team has seized 73 illegal firearms and served 60 search warrants, seizing quantities of methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, fentanyl, steroids, MDMA and marijuana.
Also in the first nine months of this year, the number of aggravated assaults in Statesboro, 43, was down from 55 aggravated assaults during the same period of 2019, a 22% increase. Of those, the number of aggravated assaults involving the use of a firearm January through September of his year, 18, was down from 19 during the same period last year. That’s a 5.26% decrease.
Broadhead noted that a single robbery spree could reverse these trends.
Reported rapes in the city limits of Statesboro increased by one, from nine rapes in the first nine months of 2020 to 10 in the first nine months of 2020. That’s an 11.1% increase.
Speaking to City Council, Broadhead noted that date rapes are chronically underreported, suggesting that the true number of rapes would be much higher if all were known.
“Teal House would have a different set of numbers because they’re dealing with sexual assault victims that don’t necessarily want to make a criminal report,” he said.
As previously reported, Broadhead described the most recent homicide in town, the fatal shooting of Malcolm Jerome Steele,37, Oct. 31 at Morris Heights Apartments, as a “targeted assassination” being investigated as a gang-related crime.
He also reported that Statesboro police responded to 252 “shots fired” calls this year just through Sept. 30, up from 141 such calls during all of 2019 and 180 during all of 2018. Even an engine backfiring or fireworks can result in an initial “shots fired” report, but if an incident is shown not to have been a firearm discharge, it is removed from the category.
“I think this is more about the anxiety and the frustrations that people are feeling and they’re taking it out by taking a gun out and shooting it,” Broadhead said in an interview. “We know of at least a couple of disturbances where people have been fighting and somebody pulled a gun out and fired it up into the air to stop the fighting.”
Last week’s report on crime was a follow-up to one in October. Councilman John Riggs, who has repeatedly advocated hiring more police officers, had posed several questions to Broadhead, including what the city can do to lower levels of violence and more effectively combat crime.
“We can conduct really good, effective investigations into violent criminals so that we can get them prosecuted, get them off the street. …,” Broadhead said. “We know that a small percentage of people are responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime.”
Cameras & Fusus
Returning to the subject of drug activity in apartment complexes, he said that the owners of some complexes – Fox Ridge and Axis were the examples – have made changes and eliminated or greatly reduced this problem.
“If you can do three things – control access, have proper lighting in your outdoor areas and then have cameras and let everybody know that you have cameras – you go a long ways toward driving crime out of that specific complex,” Broadhead summarized later.
To the council, he mentioned a technological subscription service named Fusus that would bring video from cameras at multiple apartment complexes and retail businesses together, for livestream monitoring by police, even in their cars, or later review.
This would involve a one-time cost for participating property owners and a continuing cost to the city. The SPD is planning a live demo of Fusus in cooperation with several local businesses around Dec. 1.
To another question from Riggs, Broadhead talked about bringing officers into the SPD with special expertise in mental health.
The Statesboro Police Department currently has 74 officers, just two short of its budgeted full strength. Two officer positions were withheld from the budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 because of pandemic belt-tightening.
”We need more police officers,” Riggs said. “That was why I voted against the July budget.”
But City Manager Charles Penny asked that City Council consider any increases in police staffing in the context of his recommendations, the needs of all departments and the city’s pay plan.
“I’m not holding chief back trying to keep him from asking for folks, but I also try to look at the overall big scheme. …,” Penny said. “As we look at the budget for next year, we will look at these things again.”