MANATEE -- The crime rate in Manatee County dropped by 7.3 percent in 2014 compared with the previous year, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced Wednesday.
In 2014, there were 3,446.2 reported index crimes per 100,000 population, compared with 3,716.7 crimes in 2013, according to FDLE, which compiles the statistics based on information provided by local law enforcement agencies.
The 7.3 percent drop is more than twice the size of the drop in 2013 -- 3.6 percent.
Index crimes are murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault (which includes forcible fondling), burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft.
In all, there were 11,855 index crimes reported in Manatee in 2014, compared with 12,576 a year earlier.
Crimes that increased in Manatee included murders (from 13 to 14), rapes (from 209 to 213), aggravated assaults and motor vehicle thefts. There were decreases in robberies, burglaries and larcenies, according to FDLE.
For Manatee County, here is how crime rates increased or dropped in each of the county's jurisdictions:
Unincorporated Manatee and Anna Maria (patrolled by Manatee County Sheriff's Office): Down 8.5 percent
Bradenton: Down 1.7 per
Palmetto: Down 15.4 percent
Holmes Beach: Up 26.3 percent
Bradenton Beach: Down 60.2 percent
Longboat Key: Up 9.7 percent
Bradenton Beach saw the largest decrease in crime, which Police Chief Sam Speciale credited to a drop in auto burglaries.
"We don't get a lot of violent crime out here, so that's biggest thing we look at," Speciale said.
An increase in patrol presence along beaches in the city, Speciale said, is the main reason for the decrease in auto burglaries. The popular Coquina Beach, with its large parking lot, is in Bradenton Beach.
"My guys are very diligent in their patrol duties and it shows by the numbers," Speciale said. "The biggest thing is the beach. We have people that visit here from out of town, and most of the perpetrators are from out of town, too."
Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski said the decrease in crime in his city adds to the overall 38 percent decrease in crime since 2003.
"It's all thanks to the partnership between our patrol officers and the members of the community to prevent crime, because that's our philosophy: We are policing for prevention," Radzilowski said. "That's what we've been successful at."
Palmetto Police Chief Scott Tyler was most proud of the reduction in the number of violent crimes -- murders, rapes, aggravated assaults and robberies -- in his city, from 125 to 113, as well as an increase of the closure rate for cases to 43.5 percent.
"I credit the community for that, as well as our efforts," Tyler said.
Tyler said community members have been instrumental in the drop by reporting suspicious activity in their neighborhoods.
"We also took a chance and took an officer off the street and added another detective, because we wanted to have enough detectives on cases and to have enough time for each case," Tyler said.
It's not all about the numbers, cautioned Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube.
"You have to feel comfortable 24 hours a day where you live, where you work and where you shop," Steube said. "And we here have to realize that we have work to do to make that true for all our citizens."
While Steube said he'd love to say it's great news that the crime rate is down, he is concerned that in 2015 the number of violent crimes, particularly aggravated assaults, are up to date. Obviously, there are still areas in the community that demand his deputies' attention
"The continued reduction of crime is obviously because of the hard work of the men and women of the sheriff's office," Steube said.
In Sarasota County, the crime rate dropped by 10.8 percent in 2014.
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.