Special Report: Crime Stats, and what they mean

Special Report: Crime Stats, and what they mean
Albany Police Chief Michael Persley (Source: WALB)
Albany Police Chief Michael Persley (Source: WALB)
Federal officials said there was no way to know of an an actual error, and they must rely on the integrity of the reporting agency. (Source: WALB)
Federal officials said there was no way to know of an an actual error, and they must rely on the integrity of the reporting agency. (Source: WALB)

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - What's the most dangerous city in South Georgia?  Which is the safest? In this special report, WALB investigated crime statistics from the past three years across South Georgia's 12 largest cities.

Not long ago, a gunman shot an Albany Dollar General store worker as she tried to run from a robbery.

This kind of crime, an aggravated assault or an attack with some sort of weapon, happens far more often in Albany than anywhere else in South Georgia.

"Because we have more people, there is a possibility of more of those occurrences happening," said Albany Police Chief Michael Persley.

Because of those unusually high aggravated assault numbers, WALB's analysis shows Albany is number one in South Georgia in per capita violent crime.

Still, Chief Persley insists the city is safe and getting safer.

"This is not a city where people are getting shot at every day, where people are getting robbed every day," he said.

MORE: GBI Annual Crime Reports

The numbers show Cairo has the least violent crime in South Georgia and the fewest number of burglaries by far. That doesn't surprise Kermit Gilliard who was raised in Cairo and has lived there almost his entire life.

"Cairo is known as the 'Hospitality City,' and I think that's a good description of what Cairo is," Gilliard said.

He is now Grady County's school superintendent and says a strong education system helps build a good community and keep crime down.

"I think it's the people that make it a safe place," he added.

In going over all these numbers from all these cities, we found there's no way to be certain they're accurate.

Federal officials said there was no way to know of an an actual error, and they must rely on the integrity of the reporting agency.

Georgia law requires all local law enforcement agencies to submit monthly crime reports to the Georgia Crime Information Center which forwards the information to the FBI.

But there's no real punishment for agencies that don't comply and no good way to check whether the information they send it is accurate.

But WALB uncovered multiple problems with what south Georgia agencies are reporting.

Reports from Ashburn Police listed eight homicides over one month in 2013 and eight rapes in one month in 2014. Those numbers are wildly inaccurate. The real numbers:  zero homicides and one rape.

Moultrie Police list only four aggravated assaults for all of 2015, down from 60 in 2013.

However, WALB's own records show stories reported on more than four aggravated assaults in Moultrie for 2015, but the department insists the numbers are correct.

Americus Police said their burglary numbers are skewed because they recently discovered the outside contractor that compiles and submits their reports was listing crimes of larceny under the category of burglary.

FBI Data: Crimes in 2012

Crime Analyst Dave Sparks spends every day going over crime numbers for the Albany Police Department.

"We have all this data right here, and for me to go through the data is quick," he said.

When he spots a crime trend, he lets supervisors know so they can immediately change tactics or increase patrols.

"A lot of times we'll find that just their presence will make hot spots or multiple crime areas just start to fade away," Sparks explained.

He says he hopes other agencies don't fudge their numbers. He assured WALB that Albany Police reports are accurate.

"We want to make sure we are perceived as an above board agency," added Sparks.

He says those stats prove overall crime in Albany is down and clearance rates are up.

"This last year, 2015, that's a 26-year low in crime," he said.

Overall, here's what the analysis showed:

Albany has the most overall violent crime per capita, followed by Bainbridge, Ashburn, Tifton, and Americus. The numbers show Cairo has the lowest violent crime rate followed by Thomasville, Valdosta, Moultrie, and Fitzgerald.

Chief Persley wants to continue that low-crime trend with better community partnerships and crime prevention programs.

"The police is the community. The community is the police," said Persley. "Without the community's help, we can't be successful at all."

One south Georgia police chief says he hates crime comparisons because, essentially, it's too easy to lie.  He says he knows his department reports accurately, but he's not sure if that's true for nearby agencies.

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