By AMY LINDBLOM
More people and more people stressed by a poor economy equates to a jump in crime.
That's the theory, anyway. In 2003, major crimes in Tuolumne County rose by 18.4 percent while the population rose by 1.76 percent.
The numbers come from the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Department. The statistics are reported annually to the California Department of Justice as required by the federal Uniform Crime Report Act.
The eight reported categories are homicide, rape, robbery, assault, domestic violence, burglary, theft and arson.
The statistics show the largest increases in crimes were among homicides, assaults and thefts. Assaults went up from 461 in 2002 to 489 last year, and theft was up from 386 in 2002 to 621 in 2003. Rape and robbery numbers stayed about the same from one year to the next. This is the first year arson has been included in the statistics and domestic violence cases went up slightly, as did burglary.
Tuolumne County Sheriff Dick Rogers said theft especially identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the United States today, and Tuolumne County is not isolated from that increase.
"And I think with the amount of stress our society is under and with a poor economy, people are frustrated," Rogers said. "We have more violent crime and more thefts, and I think it is a reflection of just how violent a nation we are becoming."
In 2001, the population of Tuolumne County, according to a U.S. Census Bureau estimate, was 55,520. It was projected at 56,500 in 2003.
Since 1993, there had been no more than two homicides per year, and in 1995, 1997 and 2001, there were none.
Yet, last year, there were four:
On Jan. 9, Steven Richards, 48, set fire to his sister Nadine and then the family home on Confidence Road in Twain Harte. He has been charged with murder but is undergoing a mental competency evaluation by the California Department of Corrections.
On Jan. 27, Donald Hopkins of Jamestown was murdered in his Preston Lane apartment. Derek Wooden was convicted of the murder and in December was sentenced to 34 years in prison.
On April 3, Trudy Lowry shot her boyfriend and then herself in a murder-suicide at their Italian Bar home outside Columbia.
On Aug. 25, Mary Bisbing of La Grange was found dead in her home. She had been stabbed multiple times in the chest. Her boyfriend, Michael Cook, was later arrested in Illinois and brought back to Tuolumne County. He remains jailed after being charged with Bisbing's murder. His case is still pending in Tuolumne County Superior Court.
On the upside, Rogers said, the number of sexual child abuse cases in the county dropped significantly, from 155 new cases in 2002 to 70 in 2003.
Of those 70 cases the Sheriff's Department investigated, 28 were resolved when abusers pleaded guilty. Only four were dismissed by the Tuolumne County District Attorney's office. The remainder of the cases are still pending.
"We are giving solid cases to the D.A.'s office that have resulted in more convictions. I am very pleased with the work our deputies and investigators are doing," Rogers said.
Rogers credited his narcotics team with finding and uprooting more marijuana plants in 2003 37,171 than they did in 2002, when 36,644 plants were destroyed.
But while marijuana statistics were up, the dismantling of methamphetamine labs went down from 15 in 2002 to six in 2003.
Ken Diaz, a sheriff's narcotics investigator said people are getting better at hiding the labs, and it is much more difficult for officers to find them.
Statewide statistics on crime for 2003 are still being compiled, said a Department of Justice spokeswoman. But 2002 statistics are listed on the DOJ Web site: http:// caag.state.ca.us/cjsc/datatabs.htm.
Sheriff Rogers said his officers are doing the best job they can to fight crime in Tuolumne County given the state and county budget problems, which have cut into departmental training and manpower and given that the population in Tuolumne County continues to grow.
In 2002, the sheriff's department responded to 19,221 calls versus 18,974 calls in 2003. So far in 2004, there have been 458 more calls for deputies than for the same time last year.
"Unfortunately, Tuolumne County gets bigger and bigger each year, and with more people moving in, so does the crime," Rogers said.