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Slight rise reverses trend in crime rate

The 5 percent bump doesn't surprise officials after 1999's rate, the lowest since 1984, but police are concerned.

By ANGELA MOORE

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 28, 2001


TAMPA -- Tampa's crime rate increased slightly in 2000, ending a downward trend started in 1996.

Then again, because 1999's crime rate was the lowest since 1984, the increase was not a complete surprise.

The Tampa Police Department keeps track of auto theft, larceny, burglary, rape, aggravated assault, robbery and murder. According to the department's statistics, the total was up 5 percent from 1999.

Driving up 2000's overall rate were larcenies, which increased by 12.4 percent.

Although the difference between 1999 and 2000 could be described as negligible, especially considering the soaring crime rate of the early 1990s, Tampa Police Chief Bennie Holder said any increase is a concern.

"I certainly hope that it's not a trend," Holder said. "I'm disappointed that we had any increase at all, although I am happy that violent crime is down."

Violent crimes include murder, rape, aggravated assault and robbery. In 1999, Tampa had 31 murders. In 2000, there were 38, an increase of 22.6 percent. But consider 1994, when there were 62, or 1986, when there were 79, and 2000's total doesn't look that bad.

"Homicides are one of those things that really catches everybody's attention," Holder said. But other statistics tell the whole story.

Auto thefts, which peaked at 11,011 in 1994, were down to 5,772 in 2000. That's slightly more than the 5,740 in 1999.

The crime rate is a number determined by comparing the number of crimes reported -- 33,666 in Tampa in 2000 -- against the population. In 2000, Tampa's crime rate was 113 crimes committed per 1,000 people. For 1999, the rate was the lowest in 15 years, or 108 crimes per 1,000 people.

According to statewide data for 1999, Tampa's crime rate was nearly twice as high as the state's overall rate. Although not yet available for 2000, state figures from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and national statistics from the FBI are usually released in the next two months.

Holder said comparing Tampa's crime rate against other cities in the state or nation is not pertinent to the department's goal of fighting crime at home.

"I really hate to compare one city to the next," Holder said. "You have to look at the demographics of every city, the economic condition of the community."

Holder also emphasized that tourists and good weather make Tampa's crime rate higher than that of northern cities.

"Who wants to go commit a crime when it's 32 below (zero) and there's 3 feet of snow on the ground?" he said.

Indeed, Tampa's crime rate in 1997 put it in the top five nationally, along with Orlando and Miami, Atlanta and Topeka, Kan.

"The most important thing to me is to see how we can improve from one year to the next, comparing Tampa against Tampa," Holder said.

The increase in Tampa's crime rate coincides with the recent economic downturn.

During the economic recession of the early '90s, the crime rate soared, reaching its peak in 1994. But Holder said if the economy turns that sour again, Tampa police are ready.

"I don't think we'll see a repeat of what happened in the early '90s," Holder said.

"We have a more aggressive apparatus for fighting crimes within the community than we did then."

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