JAMIE THOMPSON and ALISA ULFERTS
But the FDLE report shows an increase in burglaries and robberies.
Fewer crimes were reported in Pinellas County last year, though the number of burglaries and robberies increased over 2002, state officials announced Tuesday.
Across Florida, the crime rate dropped for the 12th consecutive year, hitting a 33-year low, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
The overall crime rate dropped in Pinellas by 1.9 percent, 2.8 percent in St. Petersburg and 2.8 percent in Hillsborough. Gov. Jeb Bush and local law enforcement officers credited tougher sentencing laws and a more watchful citizenry.
Pinellas Sheriff Everett Rice said: "We're just glad that it's going down and not up."
Murders in Pinellas fell slightly from 45 to 41, as did the number of rapes, down from 442 to 417. Last year also saw a decline in the number of reported assaults (5,267), larceny cases (28,891) and car thefts (3,945). On the rise were robberies (1,847) and burglaries (9,408).
In unincorporated Pinellas, the crime rate fell 4.6 percent, and residents reported fewer crimes except for rape, which increased 14 percent to 167.
"It's hard to make any firm statements about that," Sheriff Rice said. "I think more women are reporting rapes than they did in the past."
Crimes reported in St. Petersburg were down 2.8 percent, with the number of car thefts declining by 14 percent. Police credited a continued education campaign that included 51 information sessions and 1,132 anti-theft devices distributed in 2003.
Crime rates fell in most of north Pinellas, down 0.6 percent in Largo and 10 percent in Tarpon Springs. The Clearwater Police Department saw a 2.6 percent increase, with more assaults and car thefts reported last year than in 2002.
Crime dropped along the North Suncoast: 5.5 percent in Pasco, 3.3 percent in Citrus and 4.1 percent in Hernando.
The statistics released Tuesday also showed that gun crime has dropped significantly in recent years, declining nearly 30 percent since 1998.
The statewide statistics, released each year, use numbers compiled by 408 law enforcement agencies.
This year, both the crime rate - the number of crimes reported per 100,000 people - and the crime volume - actual number of crimes reported - dropped. The actual number of crimes reported dropped by 2.1 percent.
One of the smallest of the crime rate decreases was in the category of domestic violence, which decreased just 0.9 percent. Domestic violence offenses accounted for just more than a quarter of reported violent crimes, and just less than one-fifth of all murders were domestic related, according to state officials.
Arrests increased 6.8 percent over the previous year. Drug-related arrests accounted for 14 percent of the total, the highest single category.
The FDLE report tracks the following crimes: murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and car theft.