Crime in Flagler County Declines Again, Adding Another Wrinkle to Sheriff’s Race
FlaglerLive | November 1, 2012
The crime rate in Flagler County declined 6.2 percent in the first six months of 2012, compared with the same period last year, and is on pace to decline 8 percent this year. In Florida, the crime rate declined 3.8 percent during the period. The decline locally is driven by drops in vehicle thefts, burglaries and robberies. But violent crime remains a problem: ten rapes were reported in the first six months of the year. Last year, 19 rapes were reported all year.
The decline in crime, annualized for 2012, either compared to the first six months of 2011 or annualized over 12 months, would amount to the third drop in the crime rate in the last three years. While the crime drop tracks with state-wide results–and indeed with a continuing drop in crime nationwide–Flagler County Sheriff Don Fleming was quick to seize on the numbers as vindication of his tenure. Fleming is in a re-election race with Jim Manfre, to be decided Nov. 6. Fleming’s race was recently clouded by the Florida Ethics Commission’s finding that the sheriff had violated the state’s ethics rules by accepting expensive gifts and not reporting them. Today’s news may help remove some of that cloud.
“I am proud of the continued decrease in major crimes,” Fleming said in a release. “I have worked hard to assure that this agency has the tools it needs to protect our community.”
Manfre, a former sheriff (he served between 2001 and 2004) has said–with some justification–that the crime rate during his tenure was lower than it’s been during Fleming’s. The crime index for the first six months of 2012 is the lowest it’s been during Fleming’s eight years. But the average, annualized 2,595 crime index over Fleming’s eight years is higher than the average 2,462 recorded during Manfre’s years.
“The short-term drop in crime does not mask the dramatic increase in crime over Fleming’s eight years in office,” Manfre said. “Secondly, it’s very clear from walking through so many residents’ doors, that there’s a concerted effort to under-report crime in neighborhood after neighborhood. Residents complain that they can’t get police reports written for even the most basic crimes, like thefts and burglaries.” Fleming has repeatedly disputed the charge.
Fleming was sheriff during the county’s steepest growth years, which intensified crime: the county’s population increased from 70,000 to 97,000 during his tenure, a 39 percent increase. Manfre says growth exploded during his tenure, too, when the county’s population increased from 50,000 to 70,000, a 40 percent increase in those four years. “As a percentage, my numbers went up higher, yet I was still able to decrease the number of burglaries,” Manfre said.
The Sheriff pointed to the creation of a Crime Suppression Team, which identifies crime trends and maps out crime prevention strategies that result in arrests, and his Community Policing Unit, as successes in recent policing.
“Our Neighborhood Watch program is thriving and growing,” Fleming said. “Our Victim Advocates are getting abuse victims the information they need to remove themselves from their situations. Our residents are engaged with this agency’s efforts to fight crime. The benefit of that cooperation is showing results.”
The sheriff’s words dovetailed with those of Gov. Rick Scott, who announced the crime figures with Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey today. Scott’s approval ratings remain low as he enters the second half of his first term, making positive news, especially on issues central to Floridians’ sense of safety, key to his re-election chances. “The great news is we are winning the fight against crime,” Scott said. “No doubt, it’s because of the courage of our brave men and women of law enforcement that families can feel safe in our communities. These heroes put themselves in harm’s way every single day, and we owe them a debt of gratitude for making our communities safe.”
In the violent crime category, Flagler County’s one recorded murder was that of Dana Mulhall, the Flagler Beach resident shot by his neighbor, then-66-year-old Paul Miller, as the two men were arguing over Miller’s barking dogs in March. Miller, who is out on $300,000 bail, is charged with second-degree murder. The killing of Stefanie Merrill by her husband, William, on Covington lane in february, was not recorded as a murder. Merill was charged with manslaughter, and was convicted to 25 years in prison earlier this week. Flagler County had one murder all of 2011 (a murder-suicide on Barkwood Lane in March that year).
Flagler County’s three reported rapes for the first half of the year are well below the 10 rapes reported in the first six months last year. In the rape category, reported crimes are usually lower than the actual number of such crimes, as victims can be reluctant to take their case to police. But that’s the case every year, in all jurisdictions, so relative to last year, Flagler’s figure is unquestionably a vast improvement. Robberies barely fell, from 16 to 15. But aggravated assaults fell more sharply, would be up over last year’s total of 254. So far this year, 132 aggravated batteries have been reported, on track to exceed last year’s total by 10.
Burglaries and larcenies are slightly below last year’s totals, as are vehicle thefts.
The crime report focuses on violent and some non-violent crime that result in the victimization of individuals, but does not include drug offenses such as trafficking or possession or drunk driving, though about a fifth of jail populations are made up of drug offenders. Nor does the report include crimes as fraud or assaults below the aggravated level. But the sheriff is reporting a 17.3 percent drop in domestic violence, more than three times the statewide drop, and a 46.6 percent drop in drug-related arrests in the first six months of 2012.
“Our Narcotics Enforcement Team has worked tirelessly to fight prescription drug abuse throughout the county,” Fleming said. “We multiplied our manpower through our partnership with the FDLE. ‘Operation Pain Management‘ culminated in July with a significant amount of arrests in a three-county area that focused on high end suppliers and the street side. These efforts have impacted our community – it is a positive impact.”
In the first six months of 2012, the sheriff’s office also recovered nearly 25 percent of the value of reported stolen property. The federally reported statistics show $1,073,005 worth of property was reported stolen and $263,919 was recovered.
The complete 2012 Semi-Annual Uniform Crime Report, including county-by-county breakdowns, can be found here. FDLE began tracking crime statistics in 1971.
Flagler County Crime and Crime Rates, 2000-2012
|Year||Pop.||Total Crime Index||Index % Change from Previous Year||Mur-|
(*)January-June 2012 only. The numbers in parenthesis are the totals for last year's first six months.
(**)Census Bureau's 2011 estimate.