CRIME ON THE RISE?

A look at the re­cent surge of vi­o­lence in New­ton County

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - BY MARIYA LEWTER mlewter@cov­news.com

In less than two months, there have been five mur­ders in New­ton County.

On May 19, Mar­kice Sa­muel Har­ris was al­legedly stabbed to death on Boogers Hill Road in Ox­ford.

On June 19, En­rique Trejo was al­legedly shot and killed on Lower River Road in Cov­ing­ton.

Over the Fourth of July hol­i­day week­end, there were three mur­ders: Aqua­vius Cole, who was al­legedly struck by a ve­hi­cle on July 3 in Har­mony Place in Cov­ing­ton; Julien Wyant, who was al­legedly shot on July 4 in the Or­chard Cove Apart­ments in Cov­ing­ton; and Tony But­ler, who was al­legedly shot on July 6, also in the Or­chard Cove Apart­ments.

If these facts are not daunt­ing enough, these num­bers gath­ered from the New­ton County Sher­iff’s Of­fice (NCSO) may be.

Ac­cord­ing to re­search done by Sgt. Michael Cun­ning­ham of the NCSO, there were seven mur­ders in New­ton County in 2015, which makes the five in two months this year alarm­ingly high, es­pe­cially with it only be­ing July. Ac­cord­ing to Dis­trict At­tor­ney Layla Zon, the es­ca­lat­ing num­ber of mur­ders is a trend that be­gan in the mid­dle of last year.

“We’ve had an ex­tra­or­di­nary amount of homi­cides since June of last year, where we’ve no­ticed a trend,” Zon said. “Yes there were only seven last year, but look at the years be­fore that.”

Five years ago in 2011, there was only one mur­der in New­ton County, and only four in 2006. The high­est mur­der count in re­cent his­tory oc­curred in 2008 when the county saw 10 mur­ders, ac­cord­ing to crime sta­tis­tics posted by the Ge­or­gia Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“We did have one year where we had a lot [2008],” Zon said. “The econ­omy tanked here about that time, but if you go back and look, they weren’t the types of crimes that you would as­so­ciate with an eco­nomic down­turn. They were just evil crimes.”

While that was eight years ago, this year’s num­bers show the county’s mur­der rate could match or top 2008’s num­bers.

While the ex­act rea­son why there has been such an uptick in vi­o­lent crimes in the county re­mains un­clear, Zon be­lieves there is a common theme.

“In each of these cir­cum­stances – and I’m just talk­ing about the last three to four that we’ve had, which would go back to the one against Mr. Trejo – there’s just a lack of re­spect for life,” she said. “That’s one of the things that’s ev­i­dent. It’s just hard to an­swer [what’s caus­ing it] if you just look at the last four.”

Not only are the num­ber of mur­ders in­creas­ing, but the ages of the sus­pects seem to be de­creas­ing. There were two 16-year-old

sus­pects this year: An­tavion Love, who was ar­rested in con­nec­tion with the death of Trejo, and Qu­ran Ali Knighton, who is the al­leged per­pe­tra­tor for the stab­bing of Har­ris.

“That is young, and we’ve not had two in such prox­im­ity in time [be­fore now], so that’s very dis­turb­ing,” Zon said. MORE THAN MUR­DER ON THE RISE

While mur­der num­bers seem to be high, the num­bers are also in­creas­ing in an­other area: as­saults with firearms. Ac­cord­ing to re­search done by Of­fi­cer Al­lan See­baran of the Cov­ing­ton Po­lice Depart­ment (CPD), there were 11 of these crimes in the city of Cov­ing­ton as of July 12, seven in 2015 and 13 in 2014. There were only four in each of the three years prior.

“You can see that they’re not tremen­dous in­creases, of course,” said Cov­ing­ton Po­lice Chief Stacey Cot­ton. “We’re only talk­ing numer­i­cally just a few num­bers higher. With that said, just this past year in 2015, we an­swered al­most 40,000 calls for ser­vice, which is the high­est we’ve ever had. So we ex­pect ev­ery­thing to kind of go up.”

Ac­cord­ing to Cot­ton, most of these crimes are com­mit­ted by peo­ple who live out­side of the city lim­its of Cov­ing­ton.

“Ap­prox­i­mately 60 per­cent of the peo­ple we are deal­ing with now on our crimes are com­ing from out­side of Cov­ing­ton and even out­side of New­ton County, so I be­lieve that plays an im­pact on the area of vi­o­lence,” Cot­ton said. “We ar­rested about 1,500 peo­ple to­tal in 2015, and about 60 per­cent of those peo­ple were not from the city of Cov­ing­ton, and most of the lo­ca­tions of the ar­rests were in com­mer­cial re­tail ar­eas, not in our neigh­bor­hoods.”

The num­ber of ag­gra­vated as­saults in New­ton County, which ap­pear to re­main rel­a­tively con­sis­tent over the years, also seems to be quite high at this time in the year. While there were 99 in 2015, the cur­rent to­tal as of July is 67.

In a press re­lease, Sher­iff Ezell Brown stated a num­ber of rea­sons for why he thinks crime is on the rise in the county.

“I be­lieve some of the con­tribut­ing fac­tors in­clude the lack of em­ploy­ment, not hav­ing the man­power to in­ter­act and pa­trol in those high crime ar­eas and the lack of com­mu­nity and re­li­gious based pro­grams,” Brown said. “Many of us have strayed from be­ing rooted in faith or in some higher call­ing. I be­lieve when a per­son has noth­ing to be­lieve in they be­come dan­ger­ous, to them­selves and oth­ers. There­fore, loss of love and re­spect for hu­man life has low­ered the moral stan­dards in many ways.” WHAT TO DO NOW

When dis­cussing preven­tion, Cot­ton men­tioned the CPD’s ef­forts to stay on top of cer­tain is­sues be­fore they es­ca­late into big­ger prob­lems.

“When we have com­plaints and con­cerns with it be­ing neigh­bor­hoods or com­mer­cial re­tail ar­eas, we have to ad­dress them, and that’s what we do,” he said. “When we see things on the in­crease or when we see them be­come a prob­lem, we try to deal with them early. Our job is to show a heavy pres­ence there and deal with is­sues where the crimes are oc­cur­ring.”

Zon also be­lieves the com­mu­nity should get and stay in­volved in ef­forts to keep crime out of the county.

“There are gen­eral dis­cus­sion among com­mu­nity lead­ers, church lead­ers, law en­force­ment about pre­vent­ing crime and men­tor­ing youth,” Zon said. “There are some great or­ga­ni­za­tions, like the Wash­ing­ton Street Com­mu­nity Cen­ter, here in our com­mu­nity that try to match adult men­tors with youth to not only help them with their ed­u­ca­tional stud­ies but to also be men­tors and help them make re­spon­si­ble de­ci­sions and set goals and steer them in the right path.

“We, of course, need more of that in our com­mu­nity,” she said. “With young peo­ple in par­tic­u­lar, we’re go­ing to have to pro­vide guid­ance, train­ing, teach­ing. It’s not just about them not re­spect­ing other peo­ple’s lives, I don’t think they can re­spect their own lives or them­selves if they’re car­ry­ing on and con­duct­ing them­selves in the way that they are.” Sher­iff Brown also echoed those sen­ti­ments. “I feel the dis­trict’s com­mis­sion­ers, com­mu­nity lead­ers and all of us should be­come part­ners in fos­ter­ing pro­grams in the com­mu­ni­ties within the districts,” he said. “Rea­son be­ing, as many times as I have said be­fore, we as law en­force­ment of­fi­cers can­not do it alone.”

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