Gallup: Many residents report feeling unsafe in Columbus area

tstevens@ledger-enquirer.comApril 18, 2014 

Joe Paull Columbus Police officers investigate the scene of a shooting Friday morning in the parking lot of Muscogee County DFCS.

Nearly 46 percent of Columbus-area residents feel unsafe walking alone at night, according to a new Gallup poll.

The poll, conducted between Jan. 2-Dec. 29, 2012 and Jan. 2-Dec. 30, 2013, was part of Gallup's Well-Being Index. When Columbus residents were asked if they felt safe walking at night, 45.8 percent responded no, according to the study. Columbus ranked 5th in the 10-city list, with Texas' McAllen-Edinburg-Mission area topping the list.

Other findings from the index include: Alabama is one of the worst states, Columbus is the 7th most miserable city and Columbus residents are more likely to struggle with affordable housing.

In its most recent release, Gallup linked citizen access to affordable housing with sense of safety, remarking that the "factors that contribute to both of these problems are often rooted in socioeconomic status and are likely traced back to poverty and the discontent that comes with it."

Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said the study's findings are reflective of two factors: the city's 18 percent poverty rate, which is 2 percent above the state rate, and the lack of walkable streets in some parts of the city.

"If you have areas that are remote and dark on their sidewalks, people feel less safe," she said. "That's because it feels less welcoming to them. There are less people around; you feel more vulnerable. That's why we've done things like adopted the complete streets strategy."

Though disappointed to find Columbus on the lists, Tomlinson said Gallup's findings confirm her efforts to lower poverty and increase investment in areas suffering from deteriorated infrastructure could improve Columbus' overall wellness.

"When I read the study, to me it was very validating that these things that other cities had been doing — urban gardening, mixed income housing, walkable streets — are things we have to do," Tomlinson said. "We have to start at some point to bring investment back — private investment back as well public investment."

Gallup interviewed 531,630 adults aged 18 and older for the study. Gallup stipulates at least 300 participants are required per metro area. However, the U.S. Census Bureau reports the Columbus Metro Statistical Area — made up of Chattahoochee, Harris, Marion and Muscogee Counties in Georgia and Russell County in Alabama — had a combined population of 316,554 as of July 1, 2013. Both Georgia and Alabama have a combined population of more than 13 million people.

The study's results contrast with local statistics showing average crime rates have held steady over the past 10 years, according to Ledger-Enquirer reports.

According to city statistics, the number of Part 1 crimes (which includes homicide, aggravated assault and rape, among others) has gradually decreased during the past five years. In 2008, 15,811 Part 1 crimes were reported, compared to 12,233 in 2012. That number increased to 13,454 in 2013, just topping the 13,425 crimes reported in 2004.

Every major crime category except for aggravated assault increased in 2013. Homicides increased from 17 in 2012 to 22 in 2013, an increase of about 29 percent, according to city crime statistics. Including the death of Muscogee County Jail inmate Issac Kindred, the homicide rate for 2013 was 23.

Those homicide numbers are comparable to the 25 homicides reported in 2004, 22 reported in 2005 and 24 reported in 2007, the Ledger-Enquirer previously reported.

According to FBI crime statistics, 386.9 violent crimes per 100,000 inhabitants were reported nationally in 2012. In the Columbus MSA, 437.4 violent crimes per 100,000 inhabitants were reported.

The FBI cautions in its reporting that researchers must consider a number of demographic factors that impact a jurisdiction's crime rate, such as citizen crime reporting practices, population density and stability, economic conditions and law enforcement agency strength before drawing conclusions from such data.

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