Thursday, Dec 18, 2014

Gualtieri: Violent crimes continue five-year decline

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LARGO — Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri reports a slight dip in the crime rate in his jurisdiction during the last two years, which he says is part of a continuing downward trend, and somewhat of an accomplishment given significant budget cuts in his agency.

According to the sheriff, from 2012 to 2013, his agency saw a 5.8 percent decrease in violent crimes such as homicide, forcible sex, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and auto theft. It’s the fifth consecutive decrease during the last five years, with an overall drop of 23.8 percent since 2008, Gualtieri said.

The sheriff’s numbers cover unincorporated swaths of the county, and 13 cities for which he provides police protection, including some tiny municipalities overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.

His numbers do not include crimes committed in St. Petersburg, Tarpon Springs, Largo and Clearwater, along with a few others. Still, his agency covers half of the land mass in Pinellas County, and roughly 40 percent of the population.

County sheriffs and police chiefs throughout the state were required to submit their annual crime statistics to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement by Feb. 1. Some, such as the Clearwater Police Department, don’t divulge their numbers until the FDLE has vetted them and officially releases them.

Gualtieri did not wait, and released his figures last week.

The sheriff’s office experienced a significant drop in homicides, from 17 in 2012 to six in 2013, for a 64 percent reduction. But there was an unusually high number of killings in 2012, and an unusually low number in 2013, Gualtieri said.

Other categories, such as forcible sex, auto theft and robbery, decreased by less significant margins, with the exception of aggravated assaults, which were up slightly less than 10 percent. And while the number of crimes involving a firearm decreased by almost 25 percent, instances of aggravated assault where a firearm was involved increased by 41 percent, from 61 in 2012 to 86 in 2013, Gualtieri said.

As crimes went down, the rate at which deputies solved them went up, Gualtieri said. Arrests in cases involving violent crime went up by almost 22 percent, from 2,274 in 2012 to 2,768 in 2013, with the closure rate increasing by 12 percent, the sheriff said.

The 24 percent drop in violent crimes during the past five years is particularly significant because it occurred at a time when the sheriff was cutting more than 600 positions, 147 of them deputies, the sheriff said.

“The numbers continue to head in the right direction – and it’s a tribute to the day-to-day good work by all Sheriff’s Office members who have worked tirelessly to achieve this significant and sustained crime reduction,” Gualtieri said in a prepared statement.

sthompson@tampatrib.com. (727) 215-6504.

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