Amid the daily barrage of gloomy economic reports, a ray of sunshine emerged this week: Crime in Gainesville was down in 2008.
But Gainesville Police Chief Frank Hooper said despite his department's best efforts, he doesn't expect the positive trend of dropping crime rates to continue.
"These numbers look good, but with the continued downturn in the economy, I don't expect it to hold," Hooper said. "We could see some changes. We're going to do everything we can to prevent that from happening."
Overall, crimes against persons in the city limits in 2008 were down nearly 20 percent from the previous year. Property crime was down 14 percent.
And, for the first time in three years, there were no murders in the city limits in 2008.
Law enforcement agencies are required by law to report to the FBI the numbers for seven types of crimes each year. Of the seven so-called "part one" crimes, only robbery saw a gross increase — by one — in Gainesville last year.
But while robberies increased from 55 to 56, the population during the same span grew by nearly 1,500 people, meaning Gainesville's per capita robbery rate actually went down.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city limits of Gainesville has a population of approximately 35,000 people. But Hooper says with jobs, health care, schooling and businesses drawing nonresident commuters into the Gainesville Metropolitan Statistical Area, "we are providing service for 100,000 above that on any given day. Some are committing crimes; some are victims of crimes."
Aside from homicides, which Hooper called "the most unpreventable crime we have," motor vehicle theft saw the biggest percentage decrease in Gainesville. There were 82 cars stolen in 2008, compared with 133 the previous year, for a 38 percent decrease.
Hooper hopes that number reflects a more cautious public. "I would hope people are being more vigilant, locking their cars and taking other precautionary measures," he said.
Hooper said recent efforts to use crime analysis to focus patrols in problem areas may also have an effect on property crime.
In neighboring Gwinnett County, police also reported lower crime rates on Friday. There were eight fewer homicides — 34 in 2008 compared with 42 the year before — and aggravated assaults were down by 9 percent, Cpl. Illana Spellman said. Motor vehicle thefts were down 18 percent in Gwinnett.
The Hall County Sheriff's Office, which covers a larger jurisdiction than Gainesville police, has not finished compiling its year-end crime numbers.
Hooper tempered the good news in Gainesville with a caution for what may lie ahead.
"It was a very good year, both as a result of our efforts and the citizens' efforts," Hooper said. "But I am concerned, because of the economic situation, that we could see these numbers go up. I do think the economy affects crime rates."