Last Updated: 11:39 a.m.
As it has for eight of the last nine years, the crime index in Flagler County and Palm Coast dropped in the first six months of 2019, continuing a steep decline of the last two years, falling 15.1 percent compared with the first six months of 2018. The declines were especially steep in Flagler Beach and Bunnell.
The decline in the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office’s jurisdiction alone was 11 percent. The sheriff’s office provides policing for Palm Coast and unincorporated Flagler County, including Beverly Beach, Marineland and the Hammock. Bunnell and Flagler Beach police account for jurisdictions of about 8,000 to 9,000 people in a county of 110,000.
The figures, released Friday by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, show declines in all major crime categories except for rapes, which increased from 11 to 15. There was one murder in the first six months of the year–that of 18-year-old Curtis Gray on April 13, compared to two in the first six months of 2018. (There have been two murders since April, but they fell in the second half of the year–the killing of 17-year-old Elijah Rizvan in July and that of Deon O’Neal Jenkins, 26, in October. All three murder victims were gunned down.)
Flagler’s decline was more than twice as pronounced as that of the Florida average decline of 6.1 percent, though several other counties saw their crime rate fall by double digits, including Volusia (minus 12.7), Putnam (33.0), Sumter (12.8), Okeechobee (28.4), Palm Beach (15.6), Jefferson (21.6), and Charlotte (21.3), among others.
Of the 36 Florida counties with 100,000 population or more, Flagler has the fourth-best crime reduction rate in the firsts six months of the year. “I think that’s pretty phenomenal and it shows the tactics and initiatives my team and I are employing are working,” Sheriff Rick Staly said this morning. “I think we’re going to end this year with another significant reduction, more than you’re seeing right now, with the exception of homicides, because that’s going to be up by one, unfortunately.”
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement will take another half year to release the full 2019 numbers, but the sheriff’s office is getting ready to file those numbers in January, and they point to “a dramatic reduction again, three years in a row,” Staly said.
Flagler’s crime index saw declines in robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, larcenies and auto thefts. Larcenies are by far the most common crime. That number fell from 610 in the first half of 2018 to 501 in the first half of 2019, perhaps reflecting a stepped up effort on the sheriff’s office’s part to publicize the importance of keeping vehicle doors locked and garage doors closed (the overwhelming majority of thefts from cars involves cars left unlocked.)
The county’s crime-clearance rate was flat, at 34.9 percent, compared to 34.3 percent the previous year. The sheriff’s clearance rate was 33.2 percent. It was 48.3 percent in Bunnell, and 44.8 percent in Flagler Beach.
There were 35.6 percent fewer crimes reported in Bunnell, and 39.6 percent fewer crimes reported in Flagler Beach during the period.
Arrests declined by 3.3 percent across Florida, and a 3 percent decline in Flagler as a whole. The sheriff’s office, which also polices Palm Coast, accounted for the majority of those arrests (1,308, down from 1,387 the previous year). Of those, 79 were juveniles. Flagler Beach police arrested the same number of people in the first six months of each year: 99. The Florida Highway Patrol also made the same number of arrests during both periods: 38. Bunnell police arrested 57 the first six months of this year, compared to 63 last year.
Staly attributes the declines to the agency’s increased use of technology in crime-fighting, its district-policing approach (with west side, urban core and beach side districts defining operational areas), monitoring of juvenile offenders to ensure they’re where they’re supposed to be, and improved funding and staffing over the past few years, “which allows us to impact crime more,” the sheriff said. Early in the new year the agency’s real-time crime center will go live, adding to its crime-fighting tools. “I don’t think there’s anything that I would do less of. What we want to do though, we’ve laid the foundation now, what we have to do is continue to support that foundation with the new vision. By that I mean in many cases I have one, maybe two people assigned to new initiatives. With a growing community, you can’t sustain it,” especially as growth is adding housing units by the hundreds in Palm Coast’s Town Center and in the northwest quadrant of the city, along with infill development throughout the city.
The sheriff stressed that the corollary to the lower crime numbers is that of victims–fewer victims. “And we’re talking real numbers, real victims,” he said.
The sheriff’s office has made an arrest in every homicide on Staly’s watch with one exception, following the killing of Jenkins in a spray of gunfire while he sat in a car at the Circle K off Palm Coast Parkway the early morning of Oct. 12. The agency’s detectives’ squad has been working the case intensely since.
“Obviously I have a lot more information than I can disclose right now,” Staly said. “Like I sad that night, this is a difficult investigation but our detectives have not rested on it. We’re still putting a lot of time and resources on it, a lot of money. I’ve met with the parents of the victim and assured them that just because their son may not have been a saint doesn’t mean we’re not taking this case serious. I’m still sure we’re going to solve it.” But he said the case presented must be airtight, and so its development must be just as methodical.