Crime in Manatee jumps for first time since 2006. Shoplifting at Walmart may be one reason

For the first time in a dozen years the crime rate in Manatee County increased last year.

While law enforcement officials are not happy about the increase, the crime rate in Manatee County remains a fraction of what it was more than a decade ago, despite tremendous population and other growth.

The crime rate was up 2.2 percent county-wide in 2018, according to the annual 2018 Florida uniform crime report released by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement this month. The county’s largest cities, Bradenton and Palmetto, both saw increases in crime, as did Bradenton Beach.

The cities of Holmes Beach and Longboat Key were the only cities where crime decreased in the county compared to the previous year. The rate remained steady in unincorporated Manatee and in the city of Anna Maria, areas patrolled by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.

The crime rate increase locally contrasts with what was seen statewide: a 9 percent drop between 2017 and 2018.

The last time Manatee County saw an overall increase in the crime rate — 4.9 percent — was in 2006.

The county’s population that year was 313,392. Since then, the population has increased by 22 percent to 382,388.

But despite the increase seen in 2018, the crime rate was almost two and a half times less than it was in 2006. Twelve years ago, the crime rate in Manatee County was 5,831.7 index crimes per 100,000 population.

Last year, it was 2,384.2 per 100,000 population.

Index crimes used to calculate crime rates include murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft.

Among Manatee County cities, the crime rate was highest in 2018 in Bradenton Beach, with 4,103.9 index crimes reported for every 100,000 people, followed by Palmetto with 3,840.1 and Bradenton with 3,3476.0. Crime was the lowest in Longboat Key, with 801.1 index crimes reported for every 100,000 people.

In unincorporated Manatee and the city of Anna Maria, the overall crime rate remained the same with 2,157.9 index crimes reported for every 100,000 people.

In the city of Bradenton, the crime rate increased by 9.1 percent in 2018, with an increase in the reported number of rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries and larcenies. The city only saw a decrease in the number of murders reported and the reported motor vehicle thefts remained the same.

But while the crime rate was up, the department says overall crime is down compared to several years ago.

“We really worked against ourselves between 2017 and 2018. We became our own worst enemy,” Bradenton police spokesman Capt. Brian Thiers said on Wednesday. “Crime went so low that we saw an uptick in 2018.”

Community policing and education continue to be a focus of prevention, according to Thiers, stressing the importance of vigilance and awareness.

“The majority of larcenies come from crimes that are simple crimes. You leave your car unlocked, you leave your laptop in it, you leave a gun it, it’s an opportunity for a burglar,” Thiers said.

The department in 2018 increased its closure rate, with 29.2 percent of index crimes reported being solved, just slightly higher than the county-wide average of 29.1 percent and higher than the state-wide average of 25.3 percent. It’s a significant increase compared to 2017, however, when the department only solved 18.3 percent of crimes reported, lower than the state-wide average of 23.4 percent.

Palmetto police had the highest clearance rate in the county in 2018, solving 47 percent of index crimes reported and Longboat Key the lowest, solving 8.9 percent of the index crimes reported.

In the city of Palmetto, the crime rate increased 4.8 percent in 2018, with an increase in reported larcenies and motor vehicle thefts. Overall, violent crime is down in Palmetto, with decreases in the reported number of murders, rapes and robberies while the number of aggravated assaults remained the same.

“I’m not happy about that,” Chief of Police Scott Tyler said. “I’d like to go out and tell our citizens that every year our crime rate is dropping but realistically sometimes that’s going to happen.”

With shoplifting and motor vehicle thefts being responsible for much of the increase, the department is trying to combat that with community education and reallocation of resources, according to Tyler. Their efforts are helping reduce those crimes but not as much as the chief would like, Tyler said.

A factor contributing to the increase in reported larcenies county-wide is that Walmart last year started called law enforcement out for shoplifters after not having success with their own in-house civil diversion program.

“Walmart tried this in several target locations. It finally came to Manatee County, didn’t last too long, so now we are going back out there to every shoplifting call,” Tyler said.

But while property crimes are driving up the overall crime rate, Tyler is proud that violent crime continues to decrease.

“We want our citizens to feel safe. When people look to moving to the city of Palmetto or relocating their businesses here, we want to show them we have a very safe and pleasant community to live in,” Tyler said.