Sheriff: 'We live in a safe county here'

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A look at crime statistics for Gulf County shows a rise in the crime index, and a drop in the crime rate, but Sheriff Mike Harrison said you have to look beyond these fluctuations.

“Gulf County is a safe place to live,” he said. “We don’t have the murders, the armed robberies, the violent crimes you see in some of the other larger counties. It’s still a safe place.

“All of it boils down to we live in safe county here,” Harrison said. “I’m proud to be sheriff. I’m always concerned when I see an uptick, and we’re working every day to keep it in check.”

What the annual Uniform Crime Report recently released by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement showed was that the total crime index – which tracks murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft – had throughout the county gone from 232 to 248, an increase of 6.9 percent. FDLE calculates the crime index based on population and the total number of index crimes reported by law enforcement.

In the case of Port St. Joe, which had a much smaller number of crimes than the county as a whole, the index dropped by more than 38 percent, while countywide it had gone up by a little more than 18 percent.

The biggest factor was a rise in aggravated assaults, which covers a multitude of offenses. The total number in the county went from 33 in 2019 to 63 in 2020.

“With COVID and shut-ins and the stress associated with that, it does create a pressure cooker,” Harrison said. “I attribute of that to the COVID situation. We stayed busy during the months we were shut in.

“Overall, with the changes since Hurricane Michael, I believe there is a slight uptick in crime,” he said. “We’re still building and there’s a lot of open work sites and a lot of transient workers that are not part of our community.

“As far as the drug situation, I can’t say it’s more or less than before.” Harrison said. “As with all rural America there is a drug problem here and we work every day to combat that.”

The crime rate, which is a measurement of crime per 100,000 population declined by about 5 percent countywide, with Port St. Joe seeing a whopping roughly 43 percent drop. But because overall numbers can be small, a small difference one year to the next can mean a big percentage shift.

“We’re still adjusting to a new (reporting) system,” said the sheriff.

The clearance rate for crimes, for both departments, is roughly 50 percent.

An effort by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to transition away from the UCR’s Summary Reporting System (SRS) to the new National Incident Based Reporting System (NIMRS) is expected to modernize the crime reporting system, which was first established in 1929.

The FBI said the UCR program retired the SRS and transitioned to a NIBRS-only data collection in January, a system officials state will provide a more comprehensive view of crime.

 FDLE has also implemented the Florida Incident Based Reporting System, which will be used to compile crime information from Florida’s law enforcement agencies in line with NIBRS.

“NIBRS has more thorough data and will help law enforcement target their resources to fight crime effectively,” said the FBI in a press release. “For example, SRS only counts the most serious crime at one particular incident. So, if there is a robbery and a murder at the same time and place, SRS would only count the murder. NIBRS will count both the robbery and the murder and provide much more context, such as the day and time of the crime and the relationship of the victim to the offender.”

Unlike data reported through the SRS – an aggregate monthly tally of crimes – NIBRS goes into deeper detail because of its ability to provide circumstances and context for crimes like location, time of day, and whether the incident was cleared.

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