MANATEE — Manatee County’s three main law enforcement agencies experienced an increase in murders and aggravated assaults, but dropped in overall crime for the first six months this year, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement statistics released Wednesday.
Statewide, violent crimes decreased by nearly 9.7 percent for the first six months while non-violent crimes decreased by nearly 7.6 percent, according to reports.
The state uses figures submitted from law enforcement agencies looking at the following crimes: murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft to determine a county’s crime rate.
In Manatee County, there was a 14.7 percent decrease in crime. For the same time last year, crime decreased by 3 percent and for first half of 2007 increased by 3.3 percent, according to FDLE.
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Overall, the sheriff’s office had a 14.6 percent decrease in crime, Bradenton Police had a 10.6 percent decrease and Palmetto Police had a 39.6 percent decrease.
“I’m just pleased with the overall decrease in crime,” said Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube. “We’ve accomplished this through our tough stance on drugs, tough stance on gangs and new districting system we went to over a year ago,” he said despite a struggling economy in which law enforcement typically notices an increase in crime.
Statewide overall crime decreased by 7.9 percent with reported crimes dropping by approximately 34,000.
Domestic violence, though, was up by 5.2 percent.
Crimes had gone up statewide 1.6 percent in the first half of last year and 3.9 percent in the same period of 2007.
“When you have a tough economy like we do now, you would expect an increase in crime,” Gov. Charlie Crist said. “But I’m going to give credit where credit is due. It’s to the hardworking people in law enforcement.”
Part of the decrease is perhaps attributed to the population decrease. The semi-annual crime statistics were released as raw numbers not taking into account the population.
What has increased for the largest agencies in Manatee County has been the murder rate for the first six months.
Manatee County Sheriff’s Office had a 550 percent increase in homicides from the same period last year, going from two to 13 murders. Bradenton Police Department had 300 percent increase in homicides, going from one case to four homicides for the first six months, according to the FDLE figures. The Palmetto Police Department had no homicides, compared to one for the first half of 2008.
Out of the 17 homicides reported county wide for the first half of the year, 47 percent of the homicides were with guns and 24 percent were with knives. One method of death was not released in one of the cases and the remaining cases were beatings.
Statewide, the murder rate dropped 18.8 percent going from 581 homicides down to 472 homicides this year for the first six months. In those cases, 67 percent of the homicides were committed with guns and 13 percent were committed with knives.
Even though overall crime throughout the county has dropped, Steube said the homicides have taken center stage this year.
“I would imagine most people think we do have a lot of crime because of the homicides,” he said.
Aggravated assault cases increased slightly for all three agencies while the remaining categories including robberies and thefts decreased across the board.
Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski said there had been recent increases in the crime since June. Overall the department has decreased in crime though.
“Are we doing a good job? Yeah, we’re doing a good job,” he said. “But we could do better. We need more resources to do better.”
In Sarasota County, there was a 7.6 percent overall decrease in crime. Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office also had an increase in murders and aggravated assaults, but overall decreased by 4.5 percent. Sarasota Police had all crimes decrease and dropped overall by 14.6 percent.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.