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    Pinellas' overall crime rate drops -- a little

    County crime rate dropped two-tenths of a percent, though auto thefts increased.

    By MIKE BRASSFIELD and JULIE HAUSERMAN
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 17, 2003


    Most of Pinellas County saw a slight decrease in crime last year, though car thefts increased in St. Petersburg and property crimes rose in Pinellas Park, state officials announced Wednesday.

    Statewide, Florida's crime rate dropped for the 11th straight year in 2002, hitting a 30-year low, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

    The state crime rate -- the number of serious crimes committed per capita -- dropped 3.3 percent between 2001 and 2002.

    Pinellas County's crime rate dropped two-tenths of a percent.

    Pinellas had 45 murders, 442 rapes and nearly 5,700 aggravated assaults in 2002, virtually the same numbers as in 2001. The number of robberies (1,758) and burglaries (9,381) in the county dropped slightly compared to 2001, while the number of larcenies rose slightly to just above 29,000.

    The biggest difference was the number of motor vehicle thefts in the county, which rose from 3,895 in 2001 to 4,116 in 2002. About half of those vehicles were stolen in St. Petersburg. That city had fewer rapes and robberies last year, but more car thefts.

    "Auto thefts are an ongoing problem. We know it, and we are continually working to address it," said St. Petersburg police spokesman Bill Doniel. "It has been one of the department's priorities for the last couple of years."

    The city has held auto theft rallies in various neighborhoods, handing out antitheft devices to residents who own the kinds of cars that are most often targeted. St. Petersburg detectives also identify teens who have repeatedly been caught stealing cars. Detectives watch those teens and visit their parents.

    Most of Pinellas County's larger cities had little change in crime rates in 2002 except for Pinellas Park, which had a nearly 7 percent increase because of a rising number of burglaries and larcenies.

    Pinellas Park police say crime increased partly because the city has been annexing neighborhoods, bringing more people into the city. Police also say they're solving more crimes; the department's "clearance rate" for the number of crimes solved rose from 18 percent in 2001 to 24 percent in 2002.

    "We are taking steps to try and combat this," said Pinellas Park Sgt. Dan Levy. "We've hired more officers. We've put more emphasis on aggressive patrolling in areas where we've had these increases."

    Florida's crime rate has been falling for more than a decade, although it's no longer dropping as quickly as it used to.

    "I remember in the 1990s, we had double-digit increases in our crime rate," said FDLE Director Tim Moore.

    On average, eight out of 1,000 people in Florida were victims of a violent crime in 2002, according to the FDLE.

    The agency estimates that a crime occurs in Florida every 35 seconds. A violent crime occurs somewhere in the state about every four minutes. One in four violent crimes were the result of domestic violence.

    "We still have too many victims," Moore said.

    Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings said tough-on-crime laws passed in the 1990s have made crime rates fall. She said more prison beds assure that criminals serve their sentences.

    The 10-20-Life law, she said, also has an effect since it increases jail time for criminals who use guns.

    "When people commit a crime, they know they are going to be in jail for a long time," Jennings said.

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