Murders in South Carolina and Aiken County are at a five-year high, according to statistics by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.

Each year the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and the South Carolina Department of Public Safety publish crime trends and data compiled from sheriff's departments and police departments from across the state.

In 2018, South Carolina saw 393 murders, which is the highest the state has seen since SLED's 1993 report of 400 murders.

Since 2014, South Carolina has seen a roughly 20% increase in murders:

  • 2014: 327 murders
  • 2015: 378 murders
  • 2016: 363 murders
  • 2017: 375 murders
  • 2018: 393 murders

Aiken County's murder numbers show a similar trend.

Along with statewide trends, Aiken County has seen an increase of murders reported in 2018.

There were 14 reported murders in Aiken County in 2018, according to SLED data.

From 2014 to 2018, Aiken County has seen a roughly 27% increase in murders:

  • 2014: 11 murders
  • 2015: 11 murders
  • 2016: 10 murders
  • 2017: 12 murders
  • 2018: 14 murders

Aiken County Sheriff Michael Hunt said his department looks at SLED's reports each year as a starting point to combat violent crime and murders in the area. Hunt said his department began noticing an increase in the number of murders per year.

He said a majority of murders and violent crime that occur within state are a result of gang activity and drug involvement.

With this in mind, Hunt said the sheriff's office has developed a two-part plan.

The first part has been a continued collaboration with other law enforcement agencies in large operations like "Operation Gunsmoke," which led to a total of 26 people being federally indicted on various gun and drug charges across South Carolina and Georgia.

After "Operation Gunsmoke" concluded, Hunt said the sheriff's office began compiling a list of reported drug houses from community complaints and issuing search warrants at each house.

In October, the sheriff's office issued four narcotics search warrants in the Aiken County area.

Following the two-part plan, Hunt said he thinks the sheriff's office will see fewer murders in the area in the coming year.

So far in 2019, the sheriff's office has responded to five reported murders, Hunt said.

According to SLED statistics, Aiken County has increased arrests for weapons law violations from 195 in 2017 to 212 arrests in 2018.

Arrests made for drug law violations from 2017 to 2018 increased from 1,088 to 1,117.

"I think what we have to do is keep thinking outside the box and being proactive and keep these kind of operations going," Hunt said. "I think if we stay on this trend, we'll see less murders than we did in the last four years."

Matthew Enfinger is a general assignment reporter with the Aiken Standard. Follow him on Twitter: @matt_enfinger