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The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) last week released its 2018 Semi-Annual Crime Report, a compilation of arrest and offense data from the state's many law-enforcement agencies for the period between January and June 2018.
The report, released on Tuesday, Nov. 27, shows an eight-percent drop in crime across Florida in the first six months of 2018, compared with the same period in 2017.
The eight percent, according to the FDLE, translates into nearly 25,000 fewer reported of the seven index crimes, which are divided into violent offenses (murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault), and property offenses (burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft).
Overall, the report shows both violent and property crimes dropping during the first period of 2018, although murder and rape increased slightly -- to nearly three and four percent, respectively.
For Jefferson County, the report shows that crime increased 27.6 percent during the first half of 2018, compared with the same period in 2017, with
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burglaries and larcenies showing the greatest increases.
Statewide, Dixie County had the state's largest drop in crime at 49.4 percent, and Lafayette County had the highest increase at 104.3 percent.
All told, Florida had 282,276 index crimes during the first half of 2018, compared with 306,840 during the same period in 2017, accounting for the eight-percent decrease.
Of the 282,276 index crimes, 40,023 were violent (including the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting), and 242,253 were property crimes. The comparable figures for 2017 were 42,940 and 263,900, respectively.
The report shows Florida had 545 murders in the first half of 2018, versus 531 in the first half of 2017, a 2.6 percent increase. The state had 4,227 rapes during the 2018 period, compared with 4,073 in the 2017 period, a 3.8 percent increase.
In terms of the other five index crimes during the two six-month periods, the 2018 and 2017 figures are, respectively: robbery, 8,250 versus 9,246 (a 10.8-percent decrease); aggravated assault, 27,001 versus 29,090 (a 7.2-percent decrease); burglary, 36,298 versus 44,373 (a 18.2-percent decrease); larceny, 185,646 versus 198,312 (a 6.4-percent decrease); and motor vehicle theft, 20,309 versus 21,215 (a 4.3-percent decrease).
For Jefferson County, the report shows a total of 208 index crimes during the first half of 2018, compared with 163 during the first half of 2017, a 27.6-percent increase.
The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office (JCSO) handled 178 of the 208 incidents, the Monticello Police Department (MPD) handled 29, and the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP), one.
The 208 index crimes break down into two murders (zero in 2017), four rapes (four in 2017), five robberies (two in 2017), 35 aggravated assaults (57 in 2017), 74 burglaries (35 in 2017), 79 larcenies (59 in 2017) and nine motor vehicle thefts (six in 2017).
Local-law enforcement agencies' combined clearance rate per 100 offenses during the first six months of 2018 was 38.5 percent, compared with 53.4 percent in the first half of 2017. A breakdown of the clearance rates per agency shows the JCSO had a 36.0-percent clearance rate, the MPD a 51.7-percent clearance rate, and the FHP a 100-percent clearance rate.
In the first half of 2018, the total number of individuals arrested in Jefferson County was 237, compared with 235 during the same period in 2017. Of the 237 arrestees, 230 were adults and seven were juveniles. The JCSO made 129 of the arrests, the MPD made 48, the Department of Alcohol, Beverage and Tobacco made two, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission made 18, and the FHP made 40.
Of the 237 arrests, one was for rape, three for robbery, 23 for aggravated assault, 15 for burglary, 15 for larceny, one for motor vehicle theft, 19 for simple assault, 58 for drugs, one for a non-forcible sex offense, seven for DUI, two for destruction or vandalism, eight for weapons violations, and 81 for miscellaneous causes.
The FDLE notes that the drop in statewide crime during the first half of 2018 is part of a continuing trend, reflected in a five-year comparison showing that total index crimes have declined steadily between 2014 and 2018, even as the state's population has grown.
In 2014, the state had a total of 330,709 index crimes, a drop of 2.8 from the previous year. In 2015, the total index crimes were 323,980, a 2.7-percent drop. In 2016, the total index crimes were 313,113, a 3.4-percent drop. In 2017, they were 306,840, a 2.1-percent drop. And in 2018, they were 282,276, an 8.2-percent drop.
Indeed, according to the FDLE, violent crimes have dropped 41.8 percent statewide in the 20-year period from 1997 to 2017, from 146,929 reported offenses in 1997 to 85,558 in 2017.
Sheriff interprets crime report
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Concerning the crime report recently released by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), Sheriff Mac McNeill wants residents to understand the reasons behind the numbers and the nature of statistics.
Any increase is bad, McNeill acknowledged. And of course he would like to see the numbers dropping instead of increasing, he said. The statistics aside, however, the situation is not so dire as the numbers make it appear, and residents can feel relatively safe here, he said.
Moreover, compared with most other counties, Jefferson County has a low crime rate, McNeill said.
The FDLE's 2018 Semi-Annual Crime Report, released just last week, shows a total of 208 index crimes in Jefferson County during the first half of 2018, versus 163 in the first half of 2017 -- a 27.6-percent increase.
The seven index crimes are murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft.
McNeill's first point was that in a rural county with a relatively low crime rate, the least increase in numbers can appear statistically staggering.
Case in point, Jefferson County had two murders in the first half of 2018, versus zero murders in the first half of 2017, which translates into a 200-percent jump. Whereas in a large city that had 100 murders in one reporting period versus 150 in another, it would translate into a 50-percent increase.
Of course, even one murder is one too many, McNeill said. But it's to make the point about the nature of statistics and the importance of maintaining a proper perspective on what they suggest. Conversely, he made the point, a drop from one murder to zero murders in a small community would represent a 100-percent improvement, which could be equally misleading.
“It can go the other way,” he said. “If the rate decreases, it looks like crime is going down.”
McNeill cited the case of burglaries, which jumped here from 35 to 79 during the two periods. He said two distinct groups, one made up of juveniles and the second of adults, accounted for 45 of the burglaries. Which problem was largely resolved once the two groups were arrested, he said.
“If we see an increase in any quadrant, we address it,” McNeill said. “When a spike happens, we address the problem.”
Another factor is is how crimes are reported, he noted. In a large community, for example, a dozen break-ins at an apartment complex in one night could conceivably result in one report, he said. Whereas the same dozen burglaries in a rural county would result in 12 separate incident reports because of the separateness and distances between the dwellings.
“But I would rather that we look our worst than to fudge the numbers,” McNeill said.
Still, it was something to keep in mind when interpreting the numbers, he said.
He noted too that aggravated assaults dropped significantly during the two periods, from 57 in the first half of 2017 to 35 in the first half of 2018. It was simply the nature of crimes sometimes to rise or fall regardless and independent of the best efforts of law-enforcement agencies, and the latter could only address the issues as they arose, he said.
“Our guys do a great job,” McNeill said. “But sometimes, you can't help the spikes. What we're happy about is that when these occur, the guy who contribute to the spikes get arrested.”
It must also be kept in mind that the county is crossed by an interstate that brings in its own influx of criminals, he said. Too, the county borders two large communities to the north and west that also contribute their share to the local criminal activity, he said.
McNeill pointed to the Sheriff's Office's clearance rate of 36.0 percent and called it good.
“If you look at it, 30.5 percent is a good clearance rate,” he said. “Being is the high 30’s is a high clearance rate.”
He praised Police Chief Fred Mosley and the Monticello Police Department (MPD) for having achieved a 51.7-percent clearance rate.
“The chief and MPD should be commended,” McNeill said.