MANATEE -- Homicides climbed last year in Manatee County, but the overall crime rate dropped 15.7 percent as the number of robberies, burglaries and larcenies all decreased significantly.
The downward trend has been going on for about 10 years in the city of Bradenton, said Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski. He credits a neighborhood partnership program where an officer is assigned to specific sectors for improving the crime climate.
"Ten years ago, we set off an intense partnership with each neighborhood," Radzilowski said. "Now, a lot of times, people just call the neighborhood officer as opposed to calling 911."
The crime rate improvement might be difficult to sustain countywide, said Manatee Sheriff Brad Steube, in part because the decrease was so steep.
"That is going to be very difficult to repeat this year," said Steube.
Manatee County homicides rose 73 percent -- from 15 in 2011, to 26 in 2012. Bradenton police investigated four murders in 2012 compared with just one a year earlier.
Radzilowski said murders are virtually impossible to prevent because they tend to involve random acts of passion or drug activity.
"Last year was nothing unusual really," Radzilowski said. "We usually average four. Ten years ago, it was seven murders per year. We had a murder last night that was domestic. It's a crime you
really can't predict."
The Manatee Sheriff's Office initiated a Homicide Task Force with area law enforcement agencies in response to the rise in murders. The nature of a homicidal act renders proactive police measures less effective than they are against other crimes of opportunity, Steube said.
"We had murders last year that were related to narcotics, domestic violence, gangs and a couple whodunits," Steube said. "I am not sure what can be done to prevent some of these homicides."
Forcible rape also increased in Manatee County and Bradenton.
The MSO investigated 141 rapes in 2012 compared with 109 a year earlier, a 29 percent increase. The BPD reported rapes were up 64 percent, from 14 in 2011 to 23 last year.
Those numbers and a lot more are contained in the Uniform Crime Reports made annually to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement by all county and city law enforcement groups, including the Manatee Sheriff's Office and Bradenton Police Department.
"The UCR system allows us to provide standardized reports on crime statistics based on data gathered from across the state," the Florida Department of Law Enforcement declares on its website.
After the major assault categories, thefts of all types contributed to the overall decline in crime.
Robberies fell 16 percent, from 462 in 2011 to 389 last year, according to the MSO.
The BPD showed robberies increasing 19 percent to 94 in 2012, compared with 79 a year earlier.
Larceny reports dipped 14 percent, according to the MSO, from 9,056 incidents in 2011 to 7,768 last year. The falloff was similar in Bradenton as police reported burglaries fell 12.5 percent, from 584 in 2011 to 511 last year.
The overall crime rate in Bradenton and Manatee County is lower than in the city of Sarasota and Sarasota County, according to the crime report.
Sarasota County averaged 6,326 crimes per 100,000 residents and the city of Sarasota averaged 7,147.
Bradenton averaged 4,697.5 crimes per 100,000 residents. Manatee County overall averaged 3,866 per 100,000.
The MSO is closing more cases, too. Manatee County detectives closed 24.3 percent of their case in 2012 compared with 22.7 percent a year earlier.
Sarasota County closed 25.2 percent of its cases in 2012 compared with 23.2 percent in 2011.
"I think our closure rates are right about at the average," Steube said. "The national average is about 23 percent or 24 percent."
Manatee County crime trends were mirrored statewide.
The annual crime report showed crime down 6.5 percent statewide in 2012 compared with the year before, due largely to a decline in robberies, burglaries and thefts.
Murders and sex offenses were up slightly with 1,009 Florida murders last year, 24 more than in 2011.