Bibb crime up in first five months of 2009

Overall reports of crime in Bibb County were up 2.3 percent for the first five months of 2009, compared with the same period last year, according to the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office.

The county saw sizable increases in reports of shoplifting, car break-ins and commercial burglaries, statistics released Wednesday show.

Reports of aggravated assaults, rapes and auto thefts have remained stable, not changing significantly since 2008.

Arrests have been made in two of the county’s three homicide cases. Investigators have suspects in the third case, but they are waiting on final autopsy results to determine an exact cause of death.

Sheriff Jerry Modena said the increase in reports of shoplifting and commercial burglaries was caused partially by the growing number of businesses that have opened in Bibb County. Specifically, he cited growth in and around The Shoppes at River Crossing shopping area and Bass Road.

“There’s just more stores,” he said.

Deputies have written 129 shoplifting reports during the first five months of 2009, up from 69 in the same period last year.

The three stores where the highest number of reports have been filed are Wal-Mart on Harrison Road, Kohl’s on Zebulon Road and the Kmart on Tom Hill Sr. Boulevard, Chief Deputy David Davis said.

He said stores are becoming more aggressive in dealing with shoplifters, which is also increasing the number of reports filed.

“They can’t afford the loss,” he said.

At Kohl’s, salespeople are making a point to ask customers if they need help, not just as an aid for the customer, but to remind would-be shoplifters that they’re being watched, said Pam Scott, an administrative assistant at the store.

“We’re training (employees) to be more customer aware,” she said.

In harsh economic times, Scott said employees are finding that shoplifters are trying to steal more at one time. It’s not unusual to see someone trying to hide 10 to 20 items in their clothes or in a bag, she said.

Modena said deputies are contacting businesses and encouraging them to place more merchandise out of reach.

Many of the county’s commercial burglaries are of the “snatch and grab” variety, Davis said. The number of commercial burglaries increased from 53 this time last year to 95, according to the statistics.

While many of the burglaries are happening in north Bibb County, deputies also are seeing an increasing number in the Hartley Bridge Road area of south Bibb County, Davis said.

The sheriff’s office is reaching out to motorists in hopes of attacking the increasing number of car break-ins, Modena said. So far this year, 166 cars have been broken into, compared with 127 during the same period last year.

“People are leaving briefcases, laptops, GPS systems and wallets (in plain view) with their doors unlocked,” Modena said. “When people do that, there’s not much we can do.”

Davis said the car break-ins are scattered throughout the county, mostly in commercial areas and neighborhoods.

“A lot of people think ‘it won’t happen to me,’ ’’ he said, adding that some motorists have become complacent.

Modena cited an increased presence of deputies on patrol and arresting suspects accused of committing multiple crimes for decreases in home burglaries and robberies.

While sheriff’s office statistics showed an increase in the number of arsons, Assistant Fire Chief Cliff Rushin said firefighters keep separate statistics. A copy of the fire department’s statistics wasn’t available Wednesday.

In general, Rushin said the department has made strides to make more arson arrests and complete successful prosecutions.

To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.