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Serious crimes up in Tarpon Springs

The FDLE reports a 21.8 percent jump in such offenses from 2001 to 2002 and arrests for major crimes went up 25.9 percent for the same period.

CANDACE RONDEAUX
Published July 10, 2003

TARPON SPRINGS - Mirroring a trend seen elsewhere in Pinellas, the number of larcenies and car thefts in the city went up last year.

The total number of serious offenses rose 21.8 percent from 2001 to 2002, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Much of that increase can be traced to a 26 percent increase in larceny and an 88 percent rise in auto theft.

That's similar to what happened in Pinellas as a whole. Countywide, the biggest difference in crime came in the number of motor vehicle thefts, which rose from 3,895 in 2001 to 4,116 in 2002. About half of those vehicles were stolen in St. Petersburg, where the number of car thefts rose.

In Tarpon Springs, the increase in crime coincided with an upswing in arrests for larceny, drug offenses and liquor law violations. The total number of arrests for all crimes shot up from 853 in 2001 to 1,022 in 2002. There were 106 larceny arrests in 2002, a 76.7 percent increase over the previous year.

Tarpon Springs Police Chief Mark LeCouris attributes the rise in larceny to a string of thefts that investigators believe were likely committed by the same people.

"Larceny is kind one of those things some years you get a lot of," LeCouris said."You've got more people reporting, and you'll get that string of kids that will go through and get arrests."

Arrests for major crimes such as larceny and sex offenses went up 25.9 percent between 2001 and 2002, while arrests for less serious crimes rose 18.4 percent. The most significant increases included:

The number of arrests for liquor law violations such as drinking alcohol in public jumped from 51 in 2001 to 118 in 2002, an increase of more than 131 percent.

The number of drug arrests went from 206 in 2001 to 223 in 2002.

Arrests for simple assault also increased slightly from 133 in 2001 to 150 in 2002, an increase of 12.8 percent.

Statistics on crime to date in 2003 are not yet available. But LeCouris predicted a noticeable increase in thefts this year due to greater public awareness of computer-related crimes.

"People are now aware that you can be charged and prosecuted for stealing on the Internet and things like that," the police chief said. "There's lots of frauds and thefts with computers."

Last year's overall rise in crime took place at a time when Police Department staff numbers were at an unusual low. At least four police officers were unable to work during 2002 due to illness or injury, LeCouris said.

Despite staffing difficulties, Tarpon Springs violent crime statistics pale in comparison to statewide numbers. On average, eight out of 1,000 people in Florida were victims of a violent crime in 2002, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Police credit greater police presence in the community and increased numbers of crime tips from residents with helping to keep violent crime numbers low and increasing reports of less serious crimes.

"We're trying to push people to be reporting those things ," LeCouris said. "But when they do start reporting it the next thing you know your crime rate seems to go up."

- Candace Rondeaux can be reached at 727 445-4182 or rondeaux@sptimes.com

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