Violent crimes in Gainesville and across the U.S. decreased for the fourth consecutive year, according to a report released Monday by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Violent crimes in Gainesville decreased to 119 in 2010 from 125 in 2009, a 4.8 percent decline, according to the report.
Those crimes include murders, forcible rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults.
Property crimes also decreased in the U.S. for the eighth consecutive year and for the fifth straight year in Gainesville.
Property crimes in the city decreased to 1,623 in 2010 from 1,695 in 2009, down 4.2 percent. Those crimes include burglary, larceny thefts, car thefts and arsons.
Kevin Holbrook, public information officer for the Gainesville Police Department, credits much of the decrease to numerous neighborhood watch programs established since Chief Brian Kelly took over in May 2010.
“One of our department’s biggest things is community involvement,” Holbrook said. “Get the community involved, let them be a little more vigilant looking out for certain crimes and report it, so therefore we have information to act on ... and it makes us more aware of certain things that are out there.”
The figures from the FBI’s report are higher than figures collected by the Gainesville Police Department because the report includes not only incorporated areas, but also unincorporated areas of the city, which are the jurisdiction of the Hall County Sheriff’s Office.
So far in 2011, Gainesville is also seeing a decrease in violent crimes and property crimes compared to the same time in 2010, Holbrook said.
He said normally during times of economic decline, crimes tend to increase, but that is not the case with recent economic struggles.
“It’s, of course, been very difficult given our current economic state,” Holbrook said. “Certain things as far as thefts, property crimes, things like that generally go up when the economy goes down. People are looking at alternative methods to make money and to survive, so that’s an excuse we commonly hear.”
The department collects data for Part 1 offenses, which include murders, rapes, aggravated assaults, robberies, burglaries, thefts and car thefts.
Part 1 crimes are down by 5 percent from January to July of 2011 compared to the same period in 2010. Aggravated assaults, which are up by 6 percent thus far, is the only Part 1 crime to increase in 2011, according to the department’s statistics.
However, there have been two murders in Gainesville thus far in 2011 compared to only one in 2010.
Deanna Renee Kipp, 24, and her boyfriend Stephen West, 22, were charged with the murder of Kipp’s 18-month old daughter in June and earlier this month Lisheena Kinanna Cantrell, 22, was charged with the murder of Eveccio Ballard, 26.
“The one thing about those homicides is they have not been a stranger-on-stranger homicide,” Holbrook said. “There are relationships or a correlation between the victim and the suspect.”
Holbrook said police departments can often take measures to prevent certain crimes, but that’s hard with domestic crimes.
“A lot of times it’s easier for us to have a more proactive approach on the property crimes more so than crimes against persons,” Holbrook said. “It’s a little easier for us to get hold on those because crimes against persons ... a lot of those might be domestic related.”
With the holiday season approaching, the department expects to see an increase in property crimes.
Through July of this year, robberies in Gainesville were down by 18 percent. However, in August there were 10 robberies compared to 18 total in the seven months prior.
Total persons crimes, which include murders, rapes, aggravated assaults and robberies, in Gainesville decreased by 13 percent from 2009 to 2010 and property crimes decreased 3 percent during that time, Holbrook said.
Holbrook said tracking those figures not only allows the department to track their progress but also assists in attempts to obtain federal grants.
“We track them monthly and we also look at the previous year’s numbers to see where we’re at in line with what we were so we can compare and be proactive in that,” Holbrook said.
He said the department will make any changes from month to month or year to year depending on what the statistics indicate.
“If the numbers are high then we’ll look at certain things such as what we need to do to bring these numbers down or what might be causing these numbers to be elevated,” Holbrook said.
A large decrease in reported crimes could also alarm the department, which must determine if the numbers decreased due to measures taken by the department or if reporting decreased.
“That’s something to be mindful of,” Holbrook said. “If people aren’t reporting the crimes, then therefore there’s nothing we can do about them, so therefore it’s important for us to look at all aspects of it to see what might be causing the fluctuation in the numbers.”
Holbrook said police departments rely on crime statistics because they determine what approaches will be taken to improve crime prevention.
The department’s Crime Analysis Unit will focus on areas of increased crime or areas with high numbers of certain crimes in an attempt to prevent them in the future.
“These officers might be working covertly in surveillance mode or undercover mode or they might saturate the area with a traffic unit to look for certain things and to deter certain crimes,” Holbrook said.
Crimes in Gainesville have managed to continue decreasing every year since 2007 despite population growth every year, with the exception of 2010. Since 2002, Gainesville’s population has increased by more than 14,000, according to the FBI’s statistics.
“Of course as population does increase, crime will usually increase somewhat with it,” Holbrook said. “We’ve been very fortunate.”
Holbrook credits a high number of arrests in robbery and burglary cases to deterring others from committing similar crimes.
“A lot of times criminals run together and when they start to notice we’re making all these arrests they think maybe they need to move somewhere else,” he said.
Holbrook said the decrease in crimes is encouraging, but the department would like to see further decreases.
“One crime is one crime too many,” Holbrook said. We would love nothing more than officers riding around on patrol and not have to respond to any theft calls or any report calls. But unfortunately that’s not going to happen.”