MANATEE -- The number of reported crimes in Manatee County dropped slightly in the first half of the year, compared to the same period in 2012, even though some areas have seen a drastic increase, according to a report issued Tuesday by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
In Manatee County, 6,361 "index crimes" -- murders, forcible rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, larcenies and motor vehicle thefts -- were reported as of June 30. In the first six months of 2012, there were 6,406 crimes reported.
Statewide, reported crimes decreased by 5.2 percent, according to FDLE. In Sarasota County, the drop was 10.3 percent.
The 0.7 percent drop in Manatee in the first half of 2013 comes after a year in which the number of crimes dropped by 13.4 percent, compared to 2011.
The city of Palmetto saw an increase of 36.7 percent in crimes reported, jumping from 264 during the first half of 2012 to 361 during the first half of this year.
"Any time you reach a halfway point you are always evaluating where you can be more proactive," Palmetto Police Chief Rick Wells said. "Technically we are looking at our numbers on a weekly basis."
Larcenies seem to be the driving force behind Palmetto's increase in crimes, going from 134 reported in the first half of 2012 to 233 during the first half of this year.
Wells attributed the increase in reported crimes primarily to a crackdown by security officers at the Walmart Supercenter in Palmetto.
"They have become a lot more proactive with thefts in their store, and it is paying off with more arrests," Wells said.
Wells said his officers have worked with Walmart
as best they can, including increasing their presence in the parking lot.
"There is only so much we can do at the Walmart," Wells said.
An increase in sexual battery cases -- from three in the first half of 2012 to 11 this year -- also concerns Wells, but he noted most of those offenses involve acquaintances of the victims.
The city of Bradenton saw a small uptick in crime.
"If you look at the crime stats over all, we anticipated a very difficult year," Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski said. "You can't have a reduction in crime forever, officers have done an outstanding job since 2004."
The number of crimes reported in the city increased from 1,168 in the first half of 2012 to 1,173 this year -- a 0.4 percent increase.
"Crime in the city of Bradenton has been going down for 10 years," Radzilowski said. "Our crime is still way down compared to what it was 10 years ago."
Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube said the reported decrease in crimes where his deputies patrol came as no surprise to him.
"This is old news," Steube said.
The statistics show the number of crimes in unincorporated Manatee and the city of Anna Maria, where the sheriff's office has jurisdiction, dropped by 1.2 percent in the first half of 2013. Other areas in the county have also seen a decrease in crime, with Bradenton Beach having a 17.4 percent decrease and Holmes Beach, a 7.5 percent decrease.
The sheriff said he meets with supervisors weekly and tracks up-to-date numbers with their crime analysts.
"The fact that we are overall 1.2 percent down is really exceptional," Steube said. "It is really difficult after you have a year with a 16 percent decrease."
A close working relationship with the State Attorney's Office along with the creation of the joint Manatee County Homicide Task Force is credited for increased efficiency, Steube said.
Deputies and prosecutors are working closely to assure that individuals arrested who have long criminal histories are getting higher bonds in an effort to limit their ability of getting out of jail.
Radzilowski said he also meets weekly with his supervisors and crime analysts to plot out where crimes in the city are occurring and adjust manpower accordingly.
"There is still more work to be done," Radzilowski said. "The goal is to continue to prevent crime."
Murders, robberies and larcenies are the types of crimes that have seen increases in the first half of this year in the city, while other categories saw a decrease. Burglaries saw the biggest decrease with 221 reported in the first half of this year compared to 259 in the first half of 2012.
"The bottom numbers point out to us that we have to strive harder to do a better job at preventing crime," Radzilowski said. "Homicides are very random, certainly we keep an eyes on the gangs."
A spike in robberies also concerns him, he said. There were 44 robberies in Bradenton in the first half of 2012, and 56 in the same period this year, according to FDLE
Crimes reported in Manatee County during the first half of the year were five homicides; 107 rapes; 190 robberies; 702 aggravated assaults; 1,358 burglaries; 3,802 larcenies; and 197 motor vehicle thefts.
Jessica De Leon, law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.