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February 6, 2015 10:25:34 AM
Starkville Municipal Court handled more misdemeanor and felony charges involving theft, burglary and robbery last year than in 2013, a report shows.
The city's overall load, comprised of traffic citations, misdemeanors and felonies, hit 10,490 cases last year, an increase from 2013's 10,008 mark.
Misdemeanor theft cases almost doubled from 2013 to 2014, reaching 180 for the year. Similar felonies -- general and automobile burglaries, and simple and armed robberies -- increased 67 percent, from 2013's 41 total to 69 cases last year.
While theft charges accounted for 7 percent of non-traffic-related misdemeanors in 2013, they comprised 13 percent of last year's case load. Similar felonies were 31 percent of SMC's total felony caseload for the year, an increase of 5 percent.
Court Administrator Tony Rook alluded to an increase in shoplifting, saying 95 percent of the 85 misdemeanor theft cases reported in 2013 was from such instances.
"I've used the term 'epidemic' in this town as far as theft crimes," said Judge Rodney Faver Tuesday. "We're doing everything we can under the law to protect the merchants."
Starkville Police Department leadership in attendance for Tuesday's report to aldermen later acknowledged the rash of auto burglaries in 2014 and advised owners to lock their vehicle's doors, bring inside valuables and never leave keys in plain sight.
Assaults lead felony increase
The total amount of felonies sent through municipal court totaled 225 last year, an increase from 2013's 159 mark. City court averaged about 250 felony cases from 2008-2012. The highest number, 281, was recorded in 2009.
The court handles traffic and other misdemeanor cases, and felony trials are sent to circuit court. Initial appearances for felonies, however, are handled in city court.
While theft-related crimes led the list of felony cases in 2014, assaults showed the most dramatic increase. The number almost doubled, jumping from 30 in 2013 to 57 last year.
Combined, assaults and theft-related cases represented 56 percent of the total felony load.
Other categories showing increases included drug-related charges (38 to 47) and third offense DUIs (10 to 15). White-collar cases decreased by one to 13, and all others not falling felonies dropped from 26 to 24.
Probation violations skew misdemeanor numbers
Like felonies, city court also experienced a spike in non-traffic-related misdemeanors in 2014.
The court system saw 1,423 cases last year, compared to the 1,150 in 2013.
Probation violations grew from 373 to 430 -- almost 30 percent of the entire non-traffic caseload -- but those numbers do not represent new crimes. Instead, they represent those convicted of past offenses that violated the terms and conditions set forth by the court.
Non-vehicular, alcohol-related cases -- public intoxication charges, for example -- constituted 18 percent of SMC's misdemeanor caseload in 2014. Last year's total of 256 increased from 2013's 206 mark.
Drug-related crimes -- 13 percent of cases -- declined to 190 compared to 216 in 2013.
Assaults and domestic violence cases increased from 67 to 92 in the same timeframe, while all other misdemeanors constituted 90 cases, or 6 percent of the load.
In all, SMC handled 389 DUI cases, up from 2013's 350 mark.
Insurance violations decrease
While the total number of traffic citations increased from 2013 to 2014, city court handled fewer tickets for no insurance, the No. 1 driving offense in Starkville.
The total, which constituted 25 percent of the court's citation load, decreased from 2,246 in 2013 to 2,198 last year.
Seatbelt and child restraint violations remained almost level from 2013's total. Last year, SMC handled 1,984 of those cases, up two from the previous year.
Combined, insurance and restraint violations constitute 47 percent of the traffic citations handled in city court.
Speeding citations and cases of drivers running red lights or stop signs both increased in the same time frame. The number of speeding cases increased from 1,186 to 1,261 in 2014, while 603 red light/stop sign violations were recorded, compared to 2013's 554 tally.
SMC also handled fewer cases involving no or suspended driver's licenses. That figure dropped from 789 in 2013 to 757 last year.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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