Economy prompts crime

Published 11:29 pm Monday, February 16, 2009

COLUMBUS (AP) — As financial times get tighter and businesses reduce their work forces, some Lowndes County residents may be stepping out of their jobs and into illegal professions, according to city and county law enforcement officials.

Officers at the Columbus Police Department and the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office during the past several weeks have reported a steady increase in the area’s crime as the nation’s economy has slowly headed south.

‘‘I wouldn’t say that there has been a tremendous jump in crime, but there has been a steady increase, for sure,’’ said Columbus police Lt. Jeff Guyton, head of the department’s Criminal Investigation Division. ‘‘We can usually count on more crime around the holiday season and when people start losing their jobs.

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‘‘When you combine the bad economy with the rising utility rates and everything, it can definitely cause more crime,’’ Guyton said. ‘‘I guess some people start seeing theft as a way to get easy money.’’

During the past few weeks, Columbus police have has arrested 10 suspects on burglary and robbery charges — about double the normal number, said Guyton. Though Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Greg Wright was unable to cite the number of burglaries and robberies committed in the county during the past few weeks, he said the department has had a slight increase.

in county thefts.

‘‘I wouldn’t be able to give you a concrete number on that, but none of our investigators have said ’wow, we have had a whole bunch of robberies or burglaries lately,’’’ said Wright. ‘‘If we have one theft, that’s one too many. But we haven’t really seen a drastic increase or anything like that lately.’’

When a suspect is arrested, it is difficult for law enforcement officials to determine if the crime was a result of tough economic times or if the suspect had other motives, said Wright.

‘‘With the increase we have seen, I don’t know whether or not it has been related to the economic situation or not,’’ Wright said. ‘‘Personally, I feel like a lot of the people we arrest for these crimes had larceny in their hearts to begin with.

‘‘From what I’ve seen, most people do not hold jobs and make an honest day’s work and then all of a sudden turn to a life of crime,’’ he said. ‘‘Most people who have held jobs for while are responsible people who will pull themselves up by their bootstraps when times get though.’’

However, other local officials said the economy-crime correlation is hard to ignore.

‘‘I think it’s a given that crime will go up as the economy gets worse,’’ said Joe Higgins, chief executive officer of the Columbus-Lowndes Development Link. ‘‘People have to have money to feed their kids, and some of them just get desperate.

‘‘That happens all over the country, but any crime increase around here is probably the result of a combo of layoffs, cut hours and big companies putting their projects on hold,’’ Higgins said.

During the past six months, local companies like Sanderson Plumbing, Omnova Solutions and Outdoor Technologies have cut a total of more than 100 jobs. Other businesses, like Baldor Electric and Severstal, have reduced some of their employees’ hours in an attempt to lower operating costs, Higgins said.

‘‘Plus, when a company like Severstal is forced to move a little slower than normal when working on a big addition or a big project at its facility, people like contractors and construction workers are adversely affected,’’ said Higgins.

Though some may see theft as a source of ‘‘easy money,’’ it can land offenders in jail for several years and possibly put those convicted of the crimes in an even worse financial situation than they were before they committed the crime.

Anyone convicted of burglary could spend up to seven years in prison. If convicted of burglary of a church or an occupied dwelling, the maximum sentence jumps to 12 years and 25 years, respectively.

Those convicted of robbery can expect to spend up to 15 years in prison. Armed robbery can bring a life sentence.

Besides jail time, each theft count can also bring up to a $10,000 fine, plus restitution for the stolen property.

‘‘If it is a violent crime, we try to get them solved and make arrests as fast as we can,’’ said Guyton. ‘‘Of course we want to solve every crime, so we also work very hard to solve crimes against property, such as burglaries.’’

‘‘We are not doing as bad as some other places throughout the country, as far as crime and the economy goes,’’ said Wright. ‘‘But it is definitely a trickle-down effect. If it gets bad in the rest of the country, it will eventually find its way to us.’’


Information from: The Commercial Dispatch,