By Lacey Davis
Students and residents in Athens, GA have been on high alert since the eight reported street robberies in nine days this past December. Students have been increasingly concerned while walking home from downtown since the reporting of these crimes.
The crime rate in Athens appears to many as being higher recently than in the past. This increased sense of fear has likely stemmed from the highly publicized robberies that have occurred. Since the high crime rates in 2012, Athens law enforcement has made an effort to keep the public more aware of issues occurring in and around Athens.
There were 38 more robberies during the first four months in 2012 than in 2011, 75% of which were drug-related. Since the uptick in crime in 2012, 40 suspects were arrested and countless others have warrants out for their arrests. There has been an increase in detectives to catch these criminals still on the streets, according to OnlineAthens.com.
The Athens-Clarke County Police Department and UGA Police Department have told students and residents of Athens how to keep themselves safe. They have also stepped up law enforcement in areas with a history of being more dangerous, such as downtown. These efforts have led to lower crime rates and a safer community in 2013.
During the nine-day period with eight robberies in December 2013, emails were sent out over large student listservs from clubs and other organizations, local newspapers wrote several articles that were published each day on the new robberies and ACCPD released statements of how students should be aware of their surroundings.
“I always knew I needed to be careful walking around downtown at night, but I thought it was in areas that would never affect me,” Nikki Grossman, a sophomore majoring in psychology said. “I definitely felt less safe after I heard people were being confronted and robbed in areas that some of my friends live and are in every day.”
Students, such as Mitch Wunderlich, a junior majoring in business, are taking safety into their own hands while walking around downtown at night.
“I always try to make sure my friends go home in groups or at least with one other person so if something goes wrong then they’ll have someone who will know what happened,” Wunderlich said. “But now, because of all the robberies last semester, I actually call my friends to make sure they’ve gotten back safely. [Our safety downtown] worries me when I think about it.”
Wunderlich is using one of the many tactics that law enforcement has encouraged students to use to stay safe downtown. The most important tips are to travel in groups, avoid poorly lit streets and not to show large sums of cash.
The ACCPD released a statement after a few of these robberies saying the areas on the outskirts of downtown are the most dangerous. This could be a result of drunken young people walking around at night being an easy target.
“It definitely does worry me that downtown is more dangerous, but I’m thankfully rarely alone and haven’t felt unsafe in any particular area,” Jessica Strauss, a junior living in apartments just outside the boundaries of downtown said. “I just try to be aware to keep myself safe and always have my phone in my hand in case something happens.”
According to the Archnews listserv sent to all faculty and students, the winter season has a higher potential for person and property crimes. Thankfully, now that the holidays are over and it is officially spring, the risk is lower than at the time of these crimes.
Although the risk is lower than in years past, future residents of these areas where crimes were committed are skeptical as to if they chose a dangerous place to live.
Ellen Cohen, a sophomore majoring in digital and broadcast journalism said, “The security makes me feel much safer, but of course I was a little freaked out after hearing a few people were robbed just outside of the complex I’m living in next year.”
“I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m more worried this year than I’ve been in years past. It’s honestly just more or being aware now,” Lauren Cadranel, a senior from Atlanta said. “If there are problems now then I’m sure they were there in the past. I’m just hearing more about them this year.”
To keep the police in Athens as efficient as possible, the UGAPD and ACCPD frequently work together when there is a criminal overlap. “We work with the Athens-Clarke County Police Department all the time and are always sharing information with each other,” UGA Police Chief Jimmy Williamson told OnlineAthens.com.
The increased effort of public awareness in 2013 and 2014 has produced lower crime rates than in 2012, however still higher than five years ago.
“That’s a little hard for me to believe that it’s lower this year than last, but definitely reassuring,” Cohen said with a grin. “But that definitely doesn’t make me want to walk home alone or stop taking any precautions that I’ve been taking.”
Music to the law enforcement officers’ ears. A cautious and aware public is certainly a safer public, which will lead to even lower crime rates in the future.