By Gerhard Schneibel

Sandy Springs saw an overall decline in crime in 2008 compared with 2007 and a dramatic drop from 2006, when the city’s new Police Department took over from the Fulton County Police Department.

The city had no murders last year after seven in 2007 and eight in 2006.

While a statical anomaly is always possible, “I tend to think that’s more a reflection of the focus that’s been taken,” Sandy Springs Police Chief Terry Sult said.

“This past year, even with all the distractions we’ve had, the officers also stayed with their eye on the ball,” he said. “The numbers to date reflect the quality of people that you have policing in Sandy Springs.”

In addition to homicide, such major crimes as rape, robbery and aggravated assault have declined 13 percent to 47 percent since 2006. But robbery rose 8 percent last year after a big decline in 2007, a surge Sult attributes to the economy.

Sult took office in October. He said it will be a challenge to continue to produce drastic reductions in crime.

“The reality is that when Sandy Springs first formed, there were going to be some gains in crime number drops across the board,” he said. “That would be pretty evident when you put that kind of focus on crime in an area with a new police department.”

The recession will likely complicate the task, he said. “The gains we have experienced in the last year will be difficult to reproduce.”

Part of what Sult wants to do is split the city into districts, making officers responsible for designated areas. He also wants to improve the department’s ability to analyze statistics and evaluate crime on a “neighborhood level.”

The creation of the joint 911 center with Johns Creek, planned for August, will likely help with that analysis.

“We have very limited capability to look at our call-for-service data because it comes from Fulton County,” Sult said. “As we stand up our ability to analyze crime, that will hopefully eventually evolve into forecasting. … Then we hope to be even more effective in prevention.”

Most of the crime in Sandy Springs takes place in transient areas like apartment complexes. “That said, no area is immune to crime issues. We have property crimes that occur throughout the city, and we have to stay focused on those,” Sult said. “There is the reality of crime, and there is the perception of crime. … We have to be concerned with both.”

In the “hot spots,” however, Sult said it’s important to “let them know that there’s a police presence.”

Part of what Sult plans to do is increase cooperation among the police, the community and the city leadership. He also said he wants to “get rid of the distractions.”

“If we can get rid of those, then officers can get out, and they can really feel like they can be aggressive about getting after crime and disorder. I think we’re making some good progress in that area already,” he said.