January 12, 2014 1:40:56 AM
Sarah Fowler - [email protected]
Felony arrests in Lowndes County and the City of Columbus rose in 2013, according to data provided by the Lowndes County Sheriff's Department and the Columbus Police Department. However, Sheriff Mike Arledge and Chief Selvain McQueen say the up-tick in arrests doesn't mean crime is on the upswing. In fact, both Arledge and McQueen say the crime rate fell in 2013.
According to data provided by the Lowndes County Sheriff's Department, in 2012, the department made 1,086 felony arrests for aggravated assaults, sexual assaults, armed robberies, burglaries, domestic violence and drug related felonies and misdemeanors. In 2013, that number rose to 1,170.
The number of sexual assaults in Lowndes County doubled from 20 reported assaults in 2012 to 42 in 2013. Those sexual assault numbers include rape, statutory rape, molestation of a child, exploitation of a child, exploitation of a child to meet for sexual purposes, exploitation of a vulnerable adult, sexual battery and attempted sexual battery. In 2013, rape cases doubled, rising from seven cases in 2012 to 14 cases in 2013. Enticement of a child to meet for sexual purposes rose from zero cases in 2012 to five cases in 2013.
In all, felony arrests from 2012 to 2013 increased by 38.7 percent in the city and 7.7 percent in the county. There were almost three times more arrests made in the county in 2013 than in the city (1,170 to 376).
The data provided only details on crimes committed in which arrests were made.
Crime in the county
Despite the rise in arrests, Sheriff Mike Arledge said he feels crime in the county is down.
"Overall, it appears to me, from what I have seen, all of your violent crimes have been down or about the same," Arledge said. "Sure, there are some categories that may be up like in any statistic but overall, I think they're down."
Arledge said according to his data, which differed from what was provided to The Dispatch, the sheriff's department handled 359 criminal cases in 2013, which he claims decreased from 507 in 2012.
"I would still say that crime is overall down from our numbers here," he said. "When you work with it everyday like we do, you're aware that it is down out here in the county."
While aggravated assaults and sexual assault arrests increased in 2013, burglary and larceny of a dwelling arrests decreased from 106 cases in 20102 to 67 in 2013.
The drug-related arrests in Lowndes County increased as well in 2013. Felony drug arrests rose by more than 100, with arrests for the sale of cocaine being a large part of the increase. In 2012, the Lowndes County Sheriff's Department made 707 drug-related arrests. In 2013, that number rose to 812.
Archie Williams, assistant commander of the Lowndes County Sheriff's Department Narcotics Division, said his unit's presence in the high drug areas is the reason for an increase in arrests.
"We have been and will continue to be a presence in Lowndes County and our high drug areas," Williams said.
In 2012, there were 12 arrests for sale of cocaine in Lowndes County. In 2013, that number skyrocketed to 52 arrests. Williams said he expects cocaine arrests and prescription drugs arrests in 2014 to be comparable to the 2013 numbers.
"The major drugs in this area are cocaine and prescription drugs," he said. "Prescription drug abuse is on the rise, just like it was last year. We're also seeing a lot of spice (synthetic marijuana) and Molly, which is a pure form of ecstasy, in the area as well."
The narcotics unit will work tirelessly in the upcoming year to combat not only street dealers, but also the drug suppliers, Williams said.
"The unit is working more complex cases that take a lot of man hours in order to catch the distributors as well as the street dealers," he said. "Cutting out the streets dealers is one thing but when you cut off the supply, that's where the major hit comes in."
Williams is confident that he and his men will continue to fight the war on drugs in Lowndes County.
"It's an ongoing battle in which the Sheriff's Department can not afford to lose any ground," he said.
Crime in the city
In the city, the Columbus Police Department made a combined total of 271 felony arrests in 2012 for aggravated assaults, armed robberies, burglaries, domestic violence, sexual assaults and drug related felonies. In 2013, that number rose to 376.
Chief Selvain McQueen said he has put several tactical maneuvers in place to combat the crime rate in 2014. By creating a burglary detail, the chief hopes the number of home and automobile break-ins will significantly decrease.
"We've beefed up," McQueen said. "Not only have we beefed up with the burglary details but with other details as well." McQueen declined to elaborate on what other details the department is involved in but said that his officers are diligently working to decrease the crime rate in the city limits.
"We've gone through some entire weekends where we're working these details non-stop," he said. "And when I say weekends, I mean from Thursday evenings to 6 a.m. Monday."
The number of commercial and auto burglaries arrests decreased from 20 in 2012 to 14 in 2013. However, home burglaries arrests in the city rose from nine in 2012 to 23 in 2013. McQueen maintains the burglary detail is effective and the crime rate in the city is down.
"You're not going to believe this, but we've not had one burglary," he said. "We've gone through an entire week without an incident. When I tell you the crime rate is down, it's down. Literally, in terms of statistical data, even the robberies of individuals are down. We used to have one or two a week and now it's a rarity. You hear about one every now and then. It's called proactive policing."
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.