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I-TEAM: Crime overall is dropping due to COVID-19, but certain crimes are increasing

(Source: WRDW)
(Source: WRDW)(WRDW)
Published: May. 19, 2020 at 2:50 PM EDT
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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

News 12 at 6 O’Clock/NBC at 7

AUGUSTA, GA (WRDW/WAGT) -- The pandemic continues to change many aspects of our lives from work and school to childcare and healthcare.

But the virus and subsequent stay at home orders are also changing crime in our local communities.

Many of you have reached out to us to ask about this. We found some good news: crime overall has dropped. But there is also bad news: certain crimes like burglaries and domestic violence have increased in some communities.

COVID-19 shut down businesses and schools across the two-state for nearly two months. We found it also shut down a lot of the crime.

We requested crime numbers during March and April of this year from four law enforcement agencies on both sides of the river. We also requested the same time frame from last year to compare.

Data shows overall crime plunged 25 percent during stay-at-home orders in Richmond County. Violent crimes dropped around 50 percent. This included homicide, rape, aggravated assault, and robbery. Shut down businesses shut out would-be criminals. We found no reports of business robberies in Richmond County last month.

Chief Deputy Patrick Clayton says some crimes have increased in the county.

“We are also seeing things that are negative,” Clayton said. “We are seeing a little bit more car thefts. I think because the cars aren’t at work.”

But we found auto thefts increased even more drastically across the river in Aiken County. Data shows auto thefts shot up more than 35 percent according to the Aiken County Sheriff's Office.

In the Aiken city limits, auto thefts were an even bigger jump with a 50 percent increase in vehicles being stolen in 2020 compared to the years before. Burglaries also increased in the city of Aiken by a whopping 105 percent.

“There is really no way to draw a comparison or to say that this trend is a result from the COVID-19 epidemic,” Lt. Jason Mahoney with the Aiken Department of Public Safety said.

Mahoney says the data only gives a glimpse -- not a full picture -- of crime trends in the area.

“We know that four of the burglaries that were reported in 2020 were committed by one individual,” Mahoney said.

Data from Aiken DPS also shows an increase of 45 percent in domestic violence calls during stay-at-home orders. We found the biggest crime increase in Columbia County was in aggravated assault and battery calls. Those calls nearly doubled from March and April of last year to this year.

Overall, Mahoney does credit one crime trend to COVID-19.​

“What I can say is the biggest change we have seen is the number of traffic-related incidents and vehicle collisions,” Mahoney said.

Mahoney says that number is down almost less than 1,000 traffic stops in March and April.

In March and April of last year, Aiken DPS responded to about 400 car accidents within the city. This year: just over 250.

“I think that we can all agree on is related to the state of emergency and the things that have transpired due to COVID-19,” Mahoney said.

Another interesting trend: disturbances -- complaints ranked as number four in calls to Aiken DPS with more than 400 made during March and April of this year. Last year, disturbance calls didn’t even make the top 10 calls.

Copyright 2020 WRDW/WAGT. All rights reserved.

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