As 2023 comes to a close, law enforcement officials in Northeast Georgia are identifying trends in area crime going into the new year.
Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish spoke on WDUN's "The Drive at 5" and said that property crimes are one of the city's biggest issues entering 2024. He specifically cited vehicle break-ins as a growing issue around the area.
Parrish said, unfortunately, some of the crimes are preventable.
"A lot of it is still vehicles being left unlocked," Parrish said. "One of the trends that we see are large groups of teenagers, usually dropped off in neighborhoods or large apartment complexes...they go into these neighborhoods and walk through the driveways and parking lots and pull on door handles. For doors that are locked, they keep moving because they don't want to make a lot of noise."
Parrish added that those types of crimes are become even more prevalent during the holiday shopping season.
"The whole porch pirate thing is an uptick," Parrish said. "Thank goodness for doorbell cameras and the affordable cost of having surveillance cameras in and around your house. We're able to catch some of those people."
One county over, Jackson County Sheriff Janis Mangum said that property crimes are on the rise in her jurisdiction as well. However, she pointed to an increase in drug issues in the county as her primary concern.
"We are seeing, of course, an uprise in fentanyl overdoses and some deaths," Mangum said. "I feel like the drugs are the core of all your issues. Your burglaries and your thefts, I feel like, are a result of the drugs."
Mangum said the fentanyl crisis exploded locally in 2023. She said there were 40 fentanyl overdoses in Jackson County alone so far this calendar year.
Parrish said Gainesville has seen a rise in fentanyl overdoses in 2023 as well. He said, however, that the second half of the year has seen a decrease in the number of those overdoses that proved fatal.
"Most of that can be attributed to the prevalence of Narcan," Parrish said. "Not just from first responders, but many businesses now have Narcan. Family members that know that they have someone suffering from drug use disorder carry Narcan. Our overdoses are still up, meaning that poison is still being pumped into our community at an alarming rate, but we're not losing lives to it."
Northeast Georgia continues to be a region with a booming population. Data from the U.S. Census shows that Hall County's population grew by more than 13 percent from 2010 to 2020 while Jackson County's went up more than 25 percent in that same time period.
Mangum, who is set to retire from her sheriff position at the end of 2024, said that growth presents new problems for local law enforcement.
"We're short-staffed. I would normally have 189 employees, and I'm at about 150," Mangum said. "It's really hard to work that big of a county with the shortage that we have in our staffing. You still have to serve the people."
Parrish said while the city of Gainesville saw a relatively quiet year in terms of major public safety incidents, he is keeping his department prepared for whatever 2024 might have in store.
"It's a presidential election year. There's all kinds of elections," Parrish said. "We do look back at 2020 and what that brought. With primary season starting in March, there's just going to be a lot of elections, which in this country brings a lot of emotion...We want to make sure we have safe, secure elections and help the state in any way we can with that, but also help people feel safe voting or expressing themselves for or against whatever happens in the elections."
To hear more from Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish or Jackson County Sheriff Janis Mangum, click play on the audio links above.
AccessWDUN is speaking with local officials across Northeast Georgia for a series of Year in Review stories to wrap up 2023. Stay tuned each day this week for new installments in this series. Other features include: