City of Sarasota residents are up to 10 times more likely to be the victims of crime than residents living in other ZIP codes throughout the county, according to a geographic analysis of crime in Sarasota County.
That piece of information, along with the city’s high per capita crime rate (which outpaces crime in Chicago, New Orleans and Washington, D.C.), highlights an ongoing struggle with crime in the city that threatens to diminish its appeal as an attractive venue for tourism and business.
“The numbers don’t lie,” Sarasota Mayor Shannon Snyder said. “We’re not doing a good job. We’re raising taxes and our crime rate is still going up.”
A statistical analysis of crime in Sarasota County by Esri, an international geodatabase supplier, broke down criminal activity in Sarasota by ZIP code using a metric based on FBI crime data, called the crime index. The area’s crime indices are scaled against the national average, which has an assigned value of 100.
The crime indices among Sarasota County ZIP codes ranged from 17 to 412, with a countywide average of 43, which represents half the national average and indicates that Sarasota County, in general, is a safe place to live. Only four Sarasota County ZIP codes — 34234, 34236, 34237 and 34239 — registered above the national average benchmark of 100. Those four zip codes are all within the city of Sarasota’s geographic limits.
The 34236 ZIP code, for example, which comprises areas such as Golden Gate Point, the bayfront, Marina Jack and Five Points, has a crime index of 412 — the highest in Sarasota County, more than four times the national average, and about 10 times the countywide average.
The city of Sarasota’s crime rate also eclipses other Florida municipalities.
According to the most current FBI crime data, the city of Sarasota has 1.8 times more crime per capita than Tampa, 1.3 times more crime than Bradenton and more than three times the crime of North Port.
Crime in Sarasota even tops the per-capita rates of major cities across the country. FBI data indicates that Sarasota, for example, has more crime per capita than Chicago, New Orleans, New York City, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.
Sarasota Police Deputy Chief Stephen Moyer said the crime index data and the FBI’s crime rate were misleading because they extrapolate what Sarasota’s crime rate would be if the city had a population exceeding 100,000.
“This is a small city, so it’s important to look at the actual numbers,” Moyer said. “One homicide in this town really skews the crime rate. Our crime numbers are reasonable for a city this size.”
A memorandum, sent from the Sarasota Sheriff’s Office to Sarasota County Administrator Randall Reid Oct. 21, also called into question the relevance of FBI Uniform Crime Report data as well as the legitimacy of Esri’s crime index. The memo critiqued the Esri study for weighing property crimes and violent crimes equally (not differentiating between murders and petty thefts, for example), and for relying exclusively on FBI Uniform Crime Report data, which was cited as “ineffective” at comparing municipalities due to the over- and under-reporting of crime data in some areas.
An analysis of FBI data over the past 10 years shows that Sarasota’s reported crime data has remained consistent, and it even decreased from 2011 to 2012, paralleling state and national downward trends in crime.
“This is not a violent city; I’ve worked in a violent city,” said Moyer, who worked as security director for the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. “I live downtown with my family, and we feel safe.”
Snyder, a former Sarasota County Sheriff deputy, said Sarasota’s crime problem was serious, attributing it to ineffective city leadership.
“I have no confidence in DiPino’s leadership,” Snyder said, referring to Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino. “The sheriff is taking care of his crime rate with half the personnel. Right now the city’s crime rate would have to come down by about half to be near the average of other cities with our level of affluence.”
Snyder said the solution is a leadership shake-up at City Hall, and he advocated merging the Sarasota Police Department with the Sheriff’s Office.
“Crime downtown isn’t going to change until we get a new city manager and Tom Knight takes over law enforcement for the city of Sarasota,” Snyder said. “We’re past other options, nothing will change until the Sheriff can take over.”
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