Violent crime rose 19% in Sandy Springs in 2021 — including a total of 23 rapes, which was more than double the number in 2020.

The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program classifies four offenses as violent crime: murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault, said Sandy Springs Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Salvador Ortega.

Residents of a home on Cameron Drive in Sandy Springs called 911 when they discovered a man in their home on Nov. 19, with the incident ending with an officer stabbed and the suspect shot. Credit: SSPD

Both rape and aggravated assault were up in 2021. The 23 rape reports were a 109% increase from 2020. Aggravated assaults increased by 32% to 133. 

Only robberies decreased, Ortega said. 

“Crime has indeed increased not just in the Atlanta metro area, but nationwide,” Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul said. “Sandy Springs is not immune to that reality; however, the City has fared far better than most municipalities both in the immediate Atlanta area and nationally.”

Ortega said that the rape incidents involved known parties. “We did not have any incidents of sexual assaults involving a stranger to the victim,” he said. Many of the incidents reported were of victims meeting with their aggressor in person for a date after meeting online, he added.

As far as the aggravated assaults, the majority were domestic-related, Ortega said. That can include roommates, spouses, ex-spouses, partners and siblings.

Domestic violence calls can be some of the most dangerous for police officers, he said. Some aggravated assault incidents involved firearms by either shooting at or pointing a weapon at the victim. Others include knives, hands in strangulation and a vehicle used to try to run the victim over.

In the pre-pandemic year of 2019, violent crime was lower than the past two years with 132 incidents, compared to 166 in 2020 and 197 in 2021.

“Sandy Springs has invested significant resources into recruiting and retaining a first-class police force. While many cities around the country have reduced their police resources – whether by choice or necessity – Sandy Springs has taken the opposite approach and it has resulted in being one of the safest cities in the country at a time when the crime rate is increasing,” Paul said. “People want to live in Sandy Springs because they know it’s a safe city that will invest the necessary resources to protect its residents and visitors.”

Pandemic-related crime trends

All types of crime rose 7% in 2021. Police said the crime trends were related to the pandemic. 

“In 2020, we saw a huge decrease of residential burglaries due to the shutdowns related to COVID. Most homeowners were home as part of the shutdowns and therefore eliminating the opportunity for criminals to burglarize,” Ortega said.

But as people returned to the office, Sandy Springs saw more residential burglaries in 2021, he said. 

Another effect of the return to work was an increase in entering auto crimes in 2021. When people stayed home during the pandemic and didn’t head to commercial parking lots, they reported fewer entering autos incidents in 2020. 

The SSPD considers entering autos as crimes of opportunity. Through social media, the agency tries to educate the public on prevention.

“Normally the victim leaves valuables in plain view and therefore gives the criminal the opportunity to steal. This is the reason we encourage people to hide their valuables,” Ortega said.

Those crimes of opportunity can turn into motor vehicle thefts when a criminal enters the auto and finds the key fob or key inside the vehicle. “With the newer cars that have the push to start function, many victims simply leave the key fob inside and therefore give the criminals the opportunity to steal,” Ortega said.

Groups of criminals also are known to steal vehicles for transportation to commit more crimes.

Crime prevention

The SSPD determined the majority of violent crime is the result of domestic violence. It adopted several practices to prevent incidents from happening. Each time a domestic violence report is made, detectives investigate the incident and a victim advocate guides the victim and stays in touch.

“The Victim Advocate has been a great asset as she educates and provides resources and information to victims to escape their abusers,” he said.

They work with the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office when it comes to repeat offenders to ensure protection for the victim. They seek punishment for the suspect or ask the judge to provide restraining orders to victims.

Social media platforms and the SSPD website provide education and resources to victims to help them escape their abusers. After arrests, detectives follow up with victims to ensure new incidents have not occurred.

To stop entering autos, the Street Crimes Unit follows the trends to solve the problem. With the help of the Intelligence Unit giving them data, such as entering autos hotspots and the dates and times they have occurred, they are able to catch suspects, Ortega said. Detectives dedicated to working entering autos have identified entire crews and obtained arrest warrants for them.

The SSPD also works with the Fulton County District Attorney’s office so repeat offenders receive some jail time.

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Rough Draft Atlanta and Reporter Newspapers.