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Chief: Many Statesboro gun thefts preventable

Firearm thefts could be greatly reduced here if people did not leave guns in unlocked vehicles, Statesboro Chief of Police Mike Broadhead indicated with a recent report to the mayor and council.

He called this “something that we definitely have control over as a community and we need to fix.”

Broadhead and Statesboro Fire Department Chief Tim Grams both delivered refresher versions of their annual public safety reports during a City Council work session Nov. 19.

Much of the content dated from 2018 and had been delivered previously, in the first quarter of 2019. But City Manager Charles Penny, who arrived on the job July 1, asked for new presentations, and three councilwomen-elect who will take office in January also attended, in addition to the five current councilmen and Mayor Jonathan McCollar.

One slide in Broadhead’s presentation showed a simple bar graph of two years of gun thefts.

“If you look at 2017, this number represents the number of firearms that were stolen out of a locked vehicle,” Broadhead said, indicating the shortest bar for that year.

Only four guns were stolen out of locked vehicles in thefts reported to the Statesboro Police Department in 2017.

“This number represents those that were stolen out of unlocked vehicles,” he continued, noting the tallest bar in the chart, indicating 37 guns. “There’s no way we should accept this as a number.”

He didn’t cite percentages. But with 13 guns stolen from other locations such as stores, homes and storage buildings in 2017, those 37 guns lifted from unlocked vehicles accounted for 68.5% of all stolen guns reported to Statesboro police that year.


Locked-car contrast

Again in 2018, a majority of the firearms reported stolen in Statesboro were taken from vehicles that had been left unlocked, according to the SPD’s numbers. In all, 55 guns were reported stolen last year, and 31 of those, or 56.4%, were taken out of unlocked vehicles. The other 24 guns stolen in 2018 were taken from “other locations,” not including unlocked vehicles. In 2018, no guns were reported stolen out of unlocked vehicles in Statesboro, so that bar on the chart was nonexistent.

“And of those 24 (guns stolen from locations other than unlocked vehicles), we had 12 stolen in one incident, a residential burglary,” Broadhead noted.

When a City Council member asked if Broadhead had any information on how many of the stolen guns were registered, he noted that there is no actual gun registration system. But for every firearm that has been purchased through a federally licensed dealer in about the last 35 years, police are able to do a trace through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to identify the original point of purchase, which sometimes  allows them to backtrack to a more recent owner, he noted.

“Again, these are all just reported crimes,” Broadhead said before advancing to the next slide. “We don’t have any numbers on how many people had a gun stolen out of a car and they didn’t bother to tell us. … So the problem is bigger than what it even appears. But this is something we can fix.”


Other crime stats

He had begun with a slide showing annual counts of four major violent crimes – homicide, rape or sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault – from 2013 through 2018.

As he observed, the number of homicides in Statesboro has remained “essentially flat.” There were two in 2013, four in 2014, one in 2015, two in 2016, three in 2017 and three homicides again in 2018.

“The problem with that is our numbers are so small that if we have a tragic incident, it can make it look like we had a spike,” Broadhead said.

For the same years, the numbers of rapes reported to the Statesboro Police Department were 11 in 2013, nine in 2014, eight in 2015, 11 in 2016, then 16 in 2017 and 13 in 2018.

The number of robberies in Statesboro climbed from 29 in 2015 to 47 in 2016 and to a high of 50 in 2017 before dropping to 38 in 2018. Broadhead said he believes the trend is continuing downward so far this year.

But the number of aggravated assaults rose from 29 in 2016 to 56 in 2017 and then remained almost level, with 57 aggravated assaults in 2018. Using a deadly weapon in a way that threatens someone is a form of aggravated assault, even when there are no physical injuries.

 “The problem with some of these statistics … this will come to pass when we see the stats for 2019, we had a guy … shoot a gun into an occupied building and they identified 11 victims there,” Broadhead said. “That’s going to be identified as 11 aggravated assaults even though it’s one incident.”


Safe in the Sun Belt

He also updated a comparison he had done before, relating Statesboro’s crime rates to those of other hometowns of universities in the Sun Belt Conference.

Based on older information, Broadhead had found that Statesboro’s count of major crimes in Uniform Crime Reports submitted to the FBI was second-lowest, with only Boone, North Carolina – home of Appalachian State University – appearing safer among the 12 Sun Belt cities.

For the Nov. 19 report, he updated with UCR data from 2018 for 11 of the cities, including Statesboro, but with the latest data available for Boone being from 2017. The numbers compared were rates per 100,000 people.

This still showed Statesboro second-safest, behind Boone, in the combined rate of four major violent crimes: homicide, aggravated assault, sexual assault and robbery.

Statesboro’s ranking worsened to third-best, with Boone still safest and San Marcos, Texas, second-safest, in four property crimes: burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft and arson.

“We don’t wish them bad luck, but we’re happy that those towns have a higher crime rate than we do,” Broadhead said.

Only SPD numbers, and not crimes handled by the Georgia Southern University Police Department and other agencies, were included in the Statesboro report used in this comparison, he replied in a follow-up email.

Penny said he expects the fire and police chiefs to present reports including 2019 data to the mayor and council in February.

Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.



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