The State of Chattanooga Region Report 2010 was compiled by the staff of the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies. The center has compiled such reports every two years since 2006. This report shows data for the Chattanooga metropolitan statistical area, which includes Hamilton, Marion and Sequatchie counties in Tennessee and Dade, Walker and Catoosa counties in Georgia. Crime data is collected through the FBI uniform crime report’s annual numbers, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Tennessee Incident Based Reporting System, Chattanooga Police Department, Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office and the Tennessee Department of Correction and Georgia Department of Corrections.
In a single year, Diana Gregory became a crime statistic three times.
Twice at her antique shop in downtown Ringgold, Ga., — Gregory’s Antiques and Interiors — employee wallets were stolen from behind the counter.
And last week, someone broke into her home in Ringgold.
“You feel so violated,” she said. “It was hard to sleep after knowing someone had been in [my] house.”
While Gregory — who has lived in the city for 27 years — says she normally feels safe in Ringgold, a report released today shows the area has a high crime rate for its population size.
The State of Chattanooga Region Report 2010: Public Safety shows Ringgold has one of the highest crime rates per 100,000 residents compared with the other regional cities in the study, including Chattanooga. The crime report was released by the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies, which gathered state and federal crime data reported since 2005 for Chattanooga’s metropolitan statistical area, which includes counties in Tennessee and North Georgia.
Along with Ringgold’s, the highest crime rates per 100,000 residents in the Chattanooga MSA were in Chattanooga, East Ridge, Kimball and Rossville.
“I’m very surprised by that,” said Ringgold interim police Chief Wilborn Dycus. “Some of it is the growth in population.”
Property crime accounted for most of the offenses in Ringgold, which had 14 reports of violent crime and 178 reports of property crime in 2008, according to the report.
Overall in North Georgia, the study looks at crime in Dade, Walker and Catoosa.
With a population of more than 61,000 people, the unincorporated areas of Catoosa had 74 violent crimes in 2008, compared with 40 in 2003. In 2008, there were 1,131 property crimes in the areas, compared with 1,051 in 2003.
“There's no question with the economy we have seen an increase in property crime,” said Capt. Scott Jordan with the Catoosa County Sheriff’s Office. “I look at every report the office generates and look at where we are having the most problems and try to focus the most resources on those issues.”
The majority of the property crimes in Catoosa were thefts, he said, the sheriff’s office has seen an increase in automobile break-ins this year. Most of the burglarized vehicles were at residents’ homes, he said.
In Fort Oglethorpe, police Chief David Eubanks said neighborhoods and local businesses also have been targeted in vehicle break-ins. But based on interviews with suspects, Eubanks said he thinks the increase is related to drug abuse and not the economy.
“I can't remember anyone ever saying they broke in because [his] children were hungry,” he said.
Walker County, which has a population of more than 54,000, had 287 violent crimes and 1,120 property crimes reported in unincorporated areas in 2008.
House break-ins are the largest sector of property crimes in the county, said Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson. But the number of property crimes reported decreased from 2004 to 2008, when it began to increase slightly, he said.
“We've remained relatively steady in the last 10 years,” he said.
Because the northern part of the county has the largest population, that’s where the most crime occurs, he said.
In Dade County, only one violent crime was reported in the unincorporated area in 2008, while 197 property crimes were reported, reports show.
“Luckily, we’re a small community and don’t have violent crime,” said Maj. Jackie Womack with the Dade County Sheriff’s Office.
Because most of the calls to the sheriff’s office are for property crimes and wrecks along the interstate, deputies can focus more resources on petty crimes, he said.
To combat property crime, North Georgia police say they have incorporated neighborhood watch programs to get residents involved. The residents organize the programs and the sheriff’s office sends an officer to teach them about crime prevention, Catoosa’s Jordan said.
“We [also] check on people’s home when they’re on vacation,” he said.
Police also say they stress patrolling in the neighborhoods. Such police work is “the old-fashioned, getting out and knowing the community” process that works to stop crime, Wilson said.
In Ringgold, Dycus said an officer is assigned a specific area to patrol each night.
“We feel like it's a safe community to live in,” he said.
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Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...