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County's crime rate drops to 8-year low

A state report also shows the Sheriff's Office cleared a higher number of cases, as the office touts its faster response time to priority calls.

By STEVE THOMPSON
Published May 12, 2004

Pasco County's crime rate has dropped to its lowest level in at least eight years, according to state figures released Tuesday.

The county's crime rate - which measures the number of rapes, murders, robberies, assaults, burglaries, larcenies and motor vehicle thefts per 100,000 people - fell 5.5 percent from 2002 to 2003, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. That followed a 2.4 percent decrease in 2002, compared with the 2001 rate.

The Sheriff's Office handles the majority of crime in Pasco County, and a sheriff's official said Sheriff Bob White and his agency deserve some credit for the decreased crime rate, as well as two other encouraging numbers: decreased response times and increased case clearance rates.

"They are your vital signs," said Col. Richard Worch. "If you want to know the vital signs of a law enforcement agency, that's what you look for."

The crime rate for the county's unincorporated portions, for which the Sheriff's Office is responsible, dropped 5.5 percent from the year before, reflecting the county as a whole.

The FDLE reported that the agency's clearance rate - the percentage of cases cleared by arrest - rose to 23.7 percent for 2003, up for the third consecutive year. This comes as sheriff's officials have touted that deputies' average response time on priority calls has gone from 11.5 minutes in 2000 to 6.8 minutes in 2003.

Faster response times can lead to more arrests and higher clearance rates, Worch said. Getting these criminals "out of circulation" can translate into a lower crime rate, he said.

"(The numbers) are looking good," Worch said. "They are certainly something that we always try to improve. We try to maximize our resources the best we can."

The crime rate dip surpassed a statewide drop of 4.3 percent for 2003. Florida's crime rate now has dropped for 12 consecutive years to a 33-year low. Gov. Jeb Bush credited tougher sentencing laws and watchful residents.

Bush said state sentencing policies have kept more criminals in prison for longer periods of time.

"If you target them and put them behind bars, the violent crime will go down," Bush said.

Across the Tampa Bay area, the overall crime rate dropped by 1.9 percent in Pinellas County and 2.8 percent in Hillsborough. Crime dropped more sharply along the North Suncoast: down 3.3 percent in Citrus and 4.1 percent in Hernando.

The crime rate decreased by 17.2 percent in the area covered by the Dade City Police Department. That followed a 15 percent decrease from 2001 to 2002.

The crime rate also dipped in the Port Richey Police Department's jurisdiction. The 13.7 percent drop bucked a trend there that stemmed from a rise in larceny reports since the Wal-Mart Supercenter opened at Ridge Road and U.S. 19 in 2001. The overall crime rate had risen 59 percent from 2001 to 2002.

The rate increased 7.1 percent in Zephyrhills and 1.7 percent in the New Port Richey Police Department's jurisdiction.

- Times staff writer Alisa Ulferts contributed to this report. Steve Thompson covers crime in Pasco County. He can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6245, or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6245. His e-mail address is sthompson@sptimes.com

[Last modified May 12, 2004, 01:56:30]


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