Thursday, Mar 05, 2015

St. Petersburg crime rates fell in 2012

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 09:55 AM

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ST. PETERSBURG -

Detectives with the St. Petersburg Police Department solved every homicide that happened in the city during 2012 before the year ended, the first time that's ever happened.

One reason may be that there were so few of them.

There were 15 homicides reported in 2012, six fewer than there were in 2011, or a 29 percent drop.

"With the reductions we have, it allows the detectives more time to spend on the cases," said Maj. Mike Kovacsev, who's in charge of the police department's investigative services bureau. "I hope we maintain that success."

The city also saw significant decreases in other categories of violence, including a 25 percent drop in forcible rapes and a 19 percent drop in robberies.

Overall, violent crime was down 11.6 percent in 2012, and property crime 2.7 percent. That translates to a total crime index decrease of 4.2 percent, according to a Jan. 10 memorandum from Police Chief Chuck Harmon.

Of St. Petersburg's 15 homicides last year, five were domestic homicides, with three men killing their wives or girlfriends and two women killing their boyfriends or husbands. All five assailants were charged with either first- or second-degree murder.

Three more were the result of arguments, typically between men, and six more people were killed as the result of robberies, burglaries, or home invasions. In one of the more bizarre incidents, a robber and a victim shot and killed one another.

In one case, it's unclear why one man beat another man to death at Williams Park downtown.

There were no drug-related homicides, and only one homicide happened in Midtown.

The most notorious homicide happened Sept. 30, when police say 36-year-old Michael Norris, a convict who was living at a work-release program in Largo, broke in an ex-girlfriend's motel room, stole a gun and then shot two men at a home in Kenwood during a burglary, then set fire to the house to cover up the crime.

The only other time the department can document solving all its homicides was 1976. But two of those cases weren't closed until 2007, Kovacsev said. Last year was the first time homicide detectives solved all their cases in the same year.

Detectives began to improve their closure rates in 2009, after one of them was assigned to work cold cases exclusively, according to Kovacsev.

Because the cold case detective is handling unsolved cases, other detectives can devote their time to more recent cases, increasing the odds of solving those, said police department spokesman Mike Puetz, who used to run the homicide unit.

Advances in science particularly DNA analysis also help, Kovacsev said. One of last year's homicides, in which a 24-year-old woman was shot during a home invasion, would not have been solved had her boyfriend not hit the suspect with a Pyrex bowl, drawing a speck of the gunman's blood, which later identified him.

Of course, DNA also helps solve cold cases.


sthompson@tampatrib.com (727) 215-6504

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