A pandemic is one way to lower crime: cities are reporting “stunning crime drops” in the weeks since the coronavirus emergency resulted in stay-at-home and other forms of lock-downs, according to Time magazine. In Flagler County, just nine people were booked at the Flagler County jail over the three-day Easter weekend, all but one on misdemeanor or probation violation charges. That compares to 24 bookings over the 2019 Easter weekend, and 31 the Easter before that.
None of that accounts for the 2019 crime figures, which show a 19 percent drop in crime in Flagler County after a 22 percent drop the year before, for a combined drop of 37 percent in the last two of Sheriff Rick Staly’s tenure. The figures include crime rates for Bunnell and Flagler Beach, which don’t fall under the sheriff’s jurisdiction, but where the numbers are comparatively small enough not to substantially affect the overall trend. The sheriff provides policing for Palm Coast, where the majority of the county’s population–and crime–is concentrated.
Much of the crime drop was in non-violent crimes, burglaries and larcenies especially. Vehicle thefts increased 26 percent despite the increasing use of license-plate readers (suggesting that the readers, while effective at tracing down auto thieves, are not yet working as a deterrent).
In contrast with the better numbers overall, the last three years continue to be bedeviled by an unusually high number of murders. There were three in 2019, the same number as there were in 2018, and five in 2017, for a total of 11 in a three-year stretch: that’s the deadliest three-year stretch in recent memory. Almost every one of the 11 murders was the result either of a domestic dispute or of a drug deal gone awry. One murder in 2019 remains unsolved, however, its motive also unclear: the gunning down of Deon O’Neal Jenkins, 26, at the Circle K on Palm Coast Parkway last October. In the past three years, two of the murders took place in Bunnell, one took place in Flagler Beach.
Aggravated assaults fell 21 percent in 2019 countywide, there was one less robbery (from 12 in 2018), but reported rapes increased substantially, from 29 to 38. Typically, reported rapes under-count the actual number of rapes in any community, as victims are reluctant to step forward, and many rapes take place between spouses or partners.
Between county, municipal and state badges, seven police agencies operate in Flagler County, among them the Florida Highway Patrol and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The sheriff accounted for the overwhelming majority of arrests last year–2,543 out of a a total of 3,159 adult arrests. Bunnell recorded 146 arrests, Flagler Beach 147. Your chances of getting arrested in Bunnell remain almost twice as high as in the rest of the county.
There were 612 drug arrests in Flagler in 2019, up from 572 the year before, 58 of them in Flagler Beach. There was not a single arrest for prostitution either in the cities or the county. The county recorded 182 drunk driving arrests, down from 232 the year before, and 30 weapons violations, up from 20 the year before.
Crime rates have been falling across the nation and in Florida, though not as steeply. The crime rate in Florida fell 6.3 percent in 2019, the violent crime rate almost a third of what it was at its peak, in the late 1980s and 1990s. Total crime has been falling steadily since. Correlations have been difficult and controversial, though the consensus is that an aging population pushes crime rates down–not just in the United States. Flagler County in the past 10 years has seen its own population age substantially: residents 65 and older were just 24 percent of Flagler’s population 10 years ago. Today, according to the latest Census figures, they account for nearly 31 percent of the population. Those 18 and younger formed the group that lost most population proportionately.
“We have implemented many new programs and initiatives since I became Sheriff three years ago and between our team putting those programs into practice, utilizing intelligence led policing, and leveraging the technology available at their fingertips, we are seeing great results,” Staly was quoted as saying in a release his agency issued in mid-March, when the department’s 2019 crime figures were filed. (The figures are sent to state and federal authorities for inclusion in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports).
“We routinely check on probationers – both adult and juvenile,” Staly went on, “we have dedicated teams with a sole focus on problem areas and problem crimes and tackle them week in and week out; we have an expanded traffic unit that is present on high-crash roadways and conducts numerous driver safety
campaigns throughout the year; we offer the S.T.R.I.D.E. program in our jails to help get inmates on the right track upon release; and we have the S.W.E.A.T. program that takes potentially troubled youth and shows them the path they are headed down if they don’t turn their lives around. We are not a
complacent agency; we are an agency with innovative, forward thinkers and proactive enforcement and crime reduction.”
Calls for service are not diminishing alongside the crime rate. To the contrary: after falling to 111,400 in 2017, calls for service rose to 125,500 in 2018, and to 130,000 last year.
For Staly, who is campaigning for re-election, the falling crime figures add to his momentum, making it more unlikely that he would face serious opposition. So far just one candidate, Democrat Larry Jones, the former sheriff’s sergeant, has filed to run against him, as he did in 2016. Staly defeated Jones easily then, even without his current record. Staly has raised over $80,000 for his re-election campaign, compared to Jones’s $1,500.
The sheriff has turned favorable crime numbers into a glossy annual report and video that are not much different from from campaign materials–or from similar materials other elected officials tend to produce on their own behalf, especially in an election year.
Flagler County Crime and Crime Rates, 2000-2020
|Year (Sheriff)||Pop.*||Total Crime Index||Index % |
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.