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Crime is clearly on the rise in Richmond County. Why suddenly now?

Published: Jun. 30, 2020 at 3:52 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Crime didn’t stop at the start of the pandemic, but it sure calmed down for the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.

Now the lights seem to be flashing much more often. As life has become more normal, so has the crime rate.

And in Richmond County, it's been violent. From shootings to assaults and murders. But only a few months ago, violent crime dropped 50 percent during March and April compared to last year.

Overall crime plunged 25 percent during the stay at home order.

Now, the sheriff’s agency says it’s working as hard as ever to lower the crime rate. So what happened?

Deputies say there’s no known connection for most of the recent crimes. But some of them involve previous or current offenders. And they can’t be sure if it’s all related to reopening. Yet the data shows a clear trend.

The good news is the sheriff's office says the crime rate was actually down before COVID. They credit that to their proactive patrol program.

But they're also involving the community. The sheriff's office is now posting and responding to crime and safety info on the Neighbors app. They hope people will submit video and help solve crimes where they live.

It’s the old phrase: When you see something, say something.

Richmond County isn’t alone in seeing this uptick. Research shows many cities are seeing crime rates go up — mostly attributed to COVID-19, unrest and reopening.

Here’s a recap of recent homicides

A shooting early June 26 at an Augusta shopping center claimed the life of 36-year-old Miguel Reyes, of the 3200 block of Wrightsboro Road in Augusta. Nicholas George Lattimore, 26, was arrested in connection with the slaying at 1347 Augusta West Parkway.

Also before dawn June 26, a male was shot dead in the McDuffie County community of Dearing, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation was called in to help with the case.

Earlier, Terrance Cumber, 24, was accused of fatally shooting Ahmad Popal around 2 a.m. June 21 in the 1200 block of Broad Street in Augusta. Popal was taken to Augusta University Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. Cumber is charged with murder.

A stabbing claimed a life June 20 in Augusta. Kareen Williams, 25, is accused in the stabbing death of Timothy McBride. Investigators found McBride in a ditch outside the Azalea Park Apartments on Fayetteville Drive in Augusta around 1:30 a.m. June 20.

Those incidents came on the heels of three other fatal incidents on one day — June 19 — in Augusta:

  • shooting left a woman dead in a downtown parking deck and led to an hourslong standoff between officers and the suspect — a former deputy — near Appling. Jason Cunningham was arrested in connection with his girlfriend Nicole Harrington, 37, of Hallandale Beach, Fla., was found shot to death in the parking deck of the Augusta Convention Center around 6 a.m. June 19.
  • shooting left a man dead at a residence in far south Augusta. The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office said that investigators arrested Brandon Lee Cook and charged him with murder, possession of a firearm in the commission of a crime and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in relation to the murder of Benigno Santos that occurred at a residence in the 4900 block of Mike Padgett Highway.
  • A 78-year-old woman died being taken to a hospital after suffering what authorities call severe neglect that included extensive ant bites. Vivian Marshall of the 1400 block of Wrightsboro Road died after being taken to University Hospital about 5 p.m. the day before, according to Richmond County Coroner Mark Bowen. Her son Kenneth Leverett was arrested and charged with neglect to a disabled adult, elder person or resident, tampering with evidence and murder, according to authorities.

And exactly a week before that deadly day, two people were shot dead across the Savannah River in Aiken County. They were part of a string of shootings June 11 that also left one person injured in what started as a family dispute.

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