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Crime rate dips in state, region

Crime rate dips  in state,  region
By ABHI RAGHUNATHAN
Published June 27, 2007


The state’s overall crime rate inched down last year,  but the rate of violent crimes increased largely due to a spike in murders,  according to an annual crime report released Tuesday.

 The crime rate dipped 1 percent,  while the violent crime rate increased by 0.5 percent in 2006,  according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s annual crime report.

 The violent crime rate decreased in Pinellas County by 2.3 percent in 2006 and the overall crime rate nudged down 1.1 percent. Violent crime in the Midtown section of St. Petersburg was down 9.2 percent.

 Overall,  crime in the city of St. Petersburg decreased by less than 1 percent.

 In Hillsborough County,  the violent crime rate fell by 10.9 percent, though the total number of crimes fell by just 2.1 percent.

 When asked Tuesday about the increase in violent crimes,  Gov. Charlie Crist said the overall crime rate was at a 36-year low.

 "I’ve always been concerned about crime,  violent and otherwise,  Crist said. "I think it’s very important that we always stay vigilant on what is in my view the most important thing government does,  and that is to protect
and keep people secure."

 Bill Proffitt,  a spokesman for the St. Petersburg Police Department,  said recent attention on Midtown may have helped fuel the large crime reduction there.

 Col. Carl Hawkins of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said the 10.9 percent decrease in violent crime was likely due to the office’s recent initiatives on cracking down on gangs in the county.

 "The sheriff has taken a firm stance against gangs in Hillsborough County, " he said. "We’re trying to keep a handle on this so that it doesn’t develop into the challenges of other major cities in the United States."

 In Hernando County,  the number of arrests jumped nearly 18 percent to 8, 109,  while the violent crime rate fell by 4.5 percent.

 Conversely,  in Pasco County,  violent crime increased by 12.8 percent, driven in part by a spike in murders. Last year,  there were 26,  up from 15 in 2005.

 "We know that we have some increases,  and we will try to determine what those stats mean for our law enforcement effort, " said Pasco sheriff’s spokesman Kevin Doll. "We are being stretched thin … and it’s possible it is reflected in those statistics."

 The number of murders in the state jumped from 881 in 2005 to 1, 129 in 2006,  the FDLE report said. That’s a 28.1 percent increase. Gun-related murders jumped by 42 percent.

 Miami-Dade County had 240 murders in 2006,  up from 171 in 2005. Duval County,  which includes Jacksonville,  had 115 murders in 2006,  up from 96 the previous year. And Orange County,  which includes Orlando,  saw the number of murders skyrocket from 74 in 2005 to 121 in 2006.

Tallahassee Bureau Chief Steve Bouquet and reporter Sarah Mishkin contributed to this report. Reach Abhi Raghunathan at araghunathan@sptimes.com or 727-893-8472.

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