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Crime rate falls slightly, but violent crimes up

By CARY DAVIS and BRADY DENNIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 24, 2001


Pasco County's crime rate dropped for the second consecutive year, but not as much as the state average, according to state figures released Monday.

The county's crime rate -- which measures the number of serious crimes per 100,000 people -- fell 4.3 percent from 1999 to 2000, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Statewide, the crime rate was down 8.1 percent.

In 2000 in Pasco, there were 4,087 incidents classified by the FBI as serious crimes -- murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, car theft, burglary and larceny -- per 100,000 people. The year before, when the crime rate dropped 9 percent from 1998, there were 4,271 serious crimes per 100,000 people.

Pasco's crime rate for 2000 ranked 36th lowest out of 65 of Florida's 67 counties; Calhoun and Lafayette counties did not submit numbers to FDLE.

The total number of serious crimes across the county increased slightly, from 13,944 in 1999 to 14,090 last year. But the county's population is growing faster than the number of serious crimes, thus the falling crime rate.

A closer look at the statistics shows that violent crime is on the rise locally. Although murders dropped from 14 to seven countywide, the total number of violent crimes rose 13 percent from 1,597 to 1,808. The increase was fueled by jumps in aggravated assaults, from 1,230 to 1,409, and robberies, from 231 to 283.

In unincorporated Pasco, which is patrolled by the Sheriff's Office, the crime rate dropped 3.9 percent from 1999 to 2000.

Kevin Doll, spokesman for Sheriff Bob White, downplayed the importance of the numbers released Monday, which were a product of former Sheriff Lee Cannon's administration.

"There are not really any surprises in the statistics," Doll said. "It's just one of many tools we use to help us compare ourselves to the rest of the state and other agencies.

"We hope to see a change in the crime statistics with the additional deputies (the agency is putting on the streets)," Doll added. "But additional deputies making more arrests could make the crime rate go up."

New Port Richey's crime rate mirrored what's happening countywide, with a 9 percent increase in total crimes balanced by a larger jump -- 10 percent -- in the city's population. There were 1,181 crimes reported in the city last year, an increase of 97 from 1999. Larcenies and aggravated assaults accounted for the increase.

In Port Richey, total crimes dropped from 302 in 1999 to 285 last year. Violent crimes in the city dropped from 41 to 24.

East Pasco law enforcement officials had reason to smile at the FDLE statistics. The numbers showed an overall decrease in crime in 2000 for both Dade City and Zephyrhills.

Dade City showed 682 total serious crimes, down from 716 in 1999, a 4.7 percent decrease. Zephyrhills had 647 reported serious crimes, down from 653 in 1999, a 0.9 percent drop.

"We're happy any time we can reduce crime," said Dade City Police Chief Phil Thompson. "We know it's like a roller coaster -- some years it's going to go down, some years it's going to go up."

Zephyrhills Police Chief Robert Howell was no less pleased, despite his city's smaller decrease.

"I'm satisfied with it," Howell said. "That's always good news, better than an increase. . . . We've added several new officers, and that has an effect on such a small agency."

Among individual crimes, robberies were up in both cities. Dade City had 14 in 1999 and 22 in 2000, a 57 percent increase. Zephyrhills, meanwhile, had 10 in 1999 and 17 in 2000, a 70 percent increase.

Thompson offered a couple of theories on the jump.

"A lot of the robberies are linked to drug suspects who are ripping off each other," he said. "Also, one thing we've seen in the past year is a lot of repeat offenders are starting to get back on the street. They are just going to keep committing crimes."

Meanwhile, forcible sex offenses in both cities dropped. Dade City had two cases in 2000, compared with 13 in 1999, an 84.6 percent decrease. Zephyrhills had 13 cases in 2000 compared with 16 in 1999, an 18.8 percent drop.

- Staff writer Matthew Waite contributed to this report.

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