In a report certain to be parsed for any profitable interpretations by the five candidates running for Flagler County Sheriff and the two-term incumbent they’re challenging, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement today released the annual crime tallies for Florida’s counties and cities and touted yet another overall decline in the state’s crime rate–to its lowest level since FDLE began keeping the statistics in 1971.
The numbers diverge for Florida and Flagler, however: while violent crimes (murder, forcible sex offenses, robbery and aggravated assault) were down 3.7 percent in the state, they were up in every single one of those categories in Flagler County, including a staggering 44 percent increase in aggravated assaults, to a record 254. The closest the county had ever come to that number was 243 in 2005, near the height of the county’s economic boom. Reported rapes increased from 16 to 19 (the number is notoriously lower than it actually is, as victims tend to under-report rapes), robberies from 36 to 37, and murder from none in 2010 to one in 2011–actually, a murder-suicide last March, when David Sharp, 52, took a gun to his wife, Terry, 54, then turned it on himself in their Barkwood Lane home in Palm Coast. (See the detailed chart below.)
Relatively speaking, Flagler County remains one of the safer counties in the state, with an overall crime rate of 2,469 crimes per 100,000 population. Put more simply, the chance of your being the victim of a crime in any given year is just under 2.5 percent. In the rest of the state, it’s 4 percent.
A spokeswoman for Sheriff Don Fleming said he was not available today.
The numbers in Flagler’s violent crimes are skewed upward not because of crimes happening in jurisdictions primarily covered by the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, but because of crime in Bunnell, where the crime rate increased 38 percent between 1020 and 2011. Although fewer than 3 percent of the county’s population lives in Bunnell, the small city accounted for 51 of the county’s aggravated assaults, or 20 percent of those crimes. Flagler Beach, in comparison, had just 16 aggravated assaults, or 6 percent of the total. Bunnell also accounted for four of the county’s 19 recorded rapes, or 21 percent, and 22 percent of its robberies.
Bunnell just got itself a new police chief. Jeff Hoffman, a mmember of the Daytona Beach Police Department for 20 years, started in Bunnell on Saturday with high hopes by the city commission that the department, on a roller-coaster of internal investigations and scandals for a decade, will be under a steadier hand.
Flagler Beach saw a 21.5 percent overall decline in its crime rate. Palm Coast isn’t broken out individually, because the city contracts with the sheriff to provide law enforcement. But the overwhelming majority of crimes recorded on the sheriff’s logs, outside of Bunnell and Flagler Beach, take place in Palm Coast.
The overall crime rate in Flagler County, however, declined 4.2 percent, repeating last year’s decline by the same proportion, thanks to significant drops in non-violent crimes: burglaries, larcenies and auto theft. Burglaries fell 9.2 percent, helped in part perhaps by the diminishing inventory of foreclosed and unoccupied homes which plagued the county after the housing crash; larcenies, such as break-ins in cars or garages (more often than not left unlocked, judging from Flagler’s police reports) fell 6.7 percent. And auto thefts fell 27.9 percent (from 104 in 2010 to 75 last year).
Flagler’s overall crime drop exceeds the state’s, which was a mere 0.8 percent. Still, the drop added to a multi-year trend, surprising criminologists who have been at a loss to explain a drop in crime concurrent with a deep recession.
“While it is good news that Florida’s crime rate is at a 41-year low, we must continue to remember that each crime represents a victim whose rights must be protected,” said Governor Rick Scott.
Statewide, the report showed a 0.2 percent decrease in the number of murders, a 0.1 percent decrease in forcible sex offenses, a 1.8 percent decrease in robberies and a 5 percent drop in aggravated assault.
Non-violent crime increased 0.4 percent. Burglary and larceny each rose 0.7 percent. The number of motor vehicle thefts decreased by 4.4 percent, perhaps helped by the fact that the demand for luxury cars and gadget-leaden SUVs is not what it once was, while more people are willing to hold on to their cars longer rather than trade them in for newer models, which attract thieves.
Florida registered 985 murders in 2011, two less than in 2010. The overwhelming majority of those murders (691 of them) had a firearm as the murder weapon. And Florida’s murder rate of 5.5 per 100,000 population, along with its steeper-than-average violent crime rate, is keeping the Sunshine State among the most violent states in the union.
Steve Casey, executive director of the Florida Sheriffs Association, and Florida Police Chief’s Association First Vice President and Tallahassee Police Department Chief Dennis Jones were quick to credit “the hard work being done by law enforcement officers around the state in cooperation with the citizens they serve” (in Jones’s words), but falling crime has been a national trend.
Flagler County Crime and Crime Rates, 2000-2018
|Year (Sheriff)||Pop.*||Total Crime Index||Index % Change|
from Previous Year
Note: The crime figures listed in the table represent the incidence of reported crime in the entire county, including Bunnell and Flagler Beach, not just crime reported to or by the Flagler County Sheriff's Office. Note, too, that reported crime is always lower than actual crime levels, as all crimes are not reported.
(*)The population figure is based on the total provided by FDLE, which differs from that of the U.S. Census Bureau. The latter places the county's total population at 105,392.