Local, Florida crime rates dip

Gov. Jeb Bush credits his gun legislation and tougher penalties for the state’s lowest crime rate in 30 years.

Published July 11, 2006

TALLAHASSEE — The state’s serious crime rate fell to the lowest level in three decades last year, a development Gov. Jeb Bush hailed Tuesday as validation for his policies on gun control and criminal justice.

Bush credited tougher penalties as one reason for the lower crime rate. He also said the figures show that controlling human behavior, not guns, is the way to reduce crime.

“I think law-abiding citizens who have guns for protection are actually part of the reason we have a lower crime rate,” Bush said at a press conference in the Capitol. “I don’t think that there’s a lot of data that suggests that gun control reduces crime.”

But Ronald Akers, a professor of criminology and sociology at the University of Florida, said scholars were uncertain why the crime rate has steadily decreased nationwide since the 1980s. He said tougher sentences for criminals may have kept repeat offenders off the streets, but that demographic factors like an aging population may have played a role.

“I would say there are some reasonable hypotheses, but no one has been able to come up with some hard data for why the crime rate has been steadily declining,” Akers said.

The rate — which includes crimes such as murder, rape, assault and major theft — dropped 3.7 percent in 2005 to 4,677.2 per 100,000 residents, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The total number of reported serious crimes also dropped 1.5 percent from the previous year.

Bush cited the “10-20-LIFE” crime bill as an example of an effective law. It requires a minimum 10-year sentence for crimes committed with a gun, a 20-year sentence for firing a gun during the commission of a crime and 25 years to life if the bullet fired causes death or injury.

Local law enforcement officials cheered the state news. St. Petersburg police Chief Chuck Harmon said he was glad the city’s rate of serious crimes also saw a reduction last year. He said the trend was expected to continue this year.

“I’m pleased that we’re paralleling the state of Florida in crime reduction,” Harmon said. “That’s good news for all Floridians.”

Tampa police Chief Steve Hogue said he credited his officers and improved technology that gives a real time accounting of crime patterns for the decrease.

“They’re working smarter, and they’re working harder,” Hogue said.

St. Petersburg saw its serious crime rate drop from 8,428 per 100,000 residents to 7,979 in 2005. Tampa’s rate fell from 9,272.9 per 100,000 to 7,649.

The crime rate fell statewide in nearly every category. The number of murders fell 6.9 percent to 881. Forcible sex offenses dipped 1.6 percent to 12,230. And burglaries edged down 0.9 percent to 164,777.

Those figures show that Floridians are less likely to be burglarized or killed today than in decades.

Times reporter Abbie VanSickle contributed to this report. Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at (727) 893-8472.