An increase in murders and vehicle break-ins contributed to a slight spike in recorded crime in the city of Sumter in 2017 despite an overarching decrease in crime over a seven-year period.
There has been a 25 percent reduction in crime in the …
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• Sumter County Coroner Robbie Baker reported 10 homicides in his 2017 report. Six took place in the city and four in the county. Of the six criminal fatalities in the city, five came with murder charges and one with child neglect after a mother left her child in a car during the summer. That disparity is why the police department recorded five murders in 2017.
• Sumter County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Hampton Gardner said the majority of vehicles that are broken into in the county are left unlocked. People may feel comfortable on their own property, he said, but break-ins can happen in any neighborhood.
There has been a 25 percent reduction in crime in the city between 2011 and 2017, Police Chief Russell Roark III said.
However, compared to 2016, there was a 2.63 percent increase in overall crime during 2017 mainly because of an rise in person-on-person crimes and vehicle break-ins, he said.
Growths in criminal activity were seen in the number of murders - five in 2017 compared to three in 2016; aggravated assaults - 238 in 2017 compared to 223 in 2016; and 67 robberies in 2016 compared to 78 in 2017.
The recorded murders in 2017 involved domestic disputes, acquaintances or the result of some other attempted crime, Roark said.
The police department also recorded a 12.7 percent increase in vehicle break-ins between 2016 and 2017 - 409 in 2016 and 461 in 2017.
Despite the police department's "lock it before you leave it" campaign, about 90 percent of reported vehicle break-ins involved unlocked vehicles, according to Roark. There was a spike in incidents near the end of the year.
He said vehicle break-ins are crimes of opportunity and can be prevented if people change a few of their habits by removing all valuables and firearms from their vehicles and locking the doors before walking away.
Vehicle break-ins pose another threat because they account for the majority of reported firearm thefts in the city, he said.
Though there was an overall increase in crime, the police department recorded decreases in multiple areas including a 29 percent decrease in sexual assaults, 5 percent decrease in burglaries, 17 percent decrease in weapons crimes and a 22 percent decrease in copper thefts in 2017.
Another positive result recorded in the 2017 report, which was presented to Sumter City Council last week, is the work of Sumter Police Department's Organized Crime and Vice Control Unit, which ended the year with 326 arrests involving drug trafficking and other illegal activities.
OCVC also seized about $160,000 in cash, a little more than $300,000 in various drugs and 146 weapons.
City council members said at last week's meeting that constituents are ready for more positive changes after expressing frustration with the continuance of violent crimes in their neighborhoods. They also commended the department for the work it has already done to clean up some areas known for illegal activity.
Though the police department responded to an increase in crimes during the past year, the decrease in crimes during the past seven years is worth celebrating, Roark said.
He said the police department does not measure success by the amount of people who have been incarcerated but by the improvement in the quality of life for citizens.
Officers talk in great detail about empathy and listen to the people they come in contact with, he said. That first interaction is very important.
"We strongly believe in community partnerships," he said.
Roark said positive interactions with the community also benefit law enforcement by encouraging citizens to come forward with information about crimes.
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