Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino said crime statistics showing the city has a higher crime per capita than Chicago don’t show the whole picture.
Statistics show the city’s crime rate actually has declined 26% over the past five years.
DiPino sent a letter Oct. 24 to her police department staff, Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin and the Sarasota city commissioners in response to a crime-rate index. FBI Uniform Crime Reporting data show the city’s total crime per 100,000 residents at 6,261 incidents — higher than in Chicago, Washington, D.C., New Orleans, New York and Los Angeles, as well as Bradenton, North Port and Tampa.
“Over the last five years, violent crime has steadily decreased in the city of Sarasota thanks to all your efforts,” DiPino wrote.
DiPino added that the city of Sarasota's recent crime rate decrease paralleled a 26% reduction in personnel during the same period.
“Positions have been eliminated, but all of our officers and civilians have stepped up and continue to answer every call for service,” DiPino wrote.
DiPino’s letter disputed the conclusions of a crime-risk score broken down by ZIP code.
The data spurred Sarasota Mayor Shannon Snyder to advocate merging the Police Department with the Sheriff’s Office last week.
In addition to arguing the city’s crime rate has been steadily declining for years, Sarasota Police Department leaders said per capita projections of crime rates are an inaccurate way to compare municipalities.
“The most important number is the actual number of crimes,” Sarasota Deputy Chief Stephen Moyer said.
Moyer also cautioned against comparing Sarasota’s crime rates with other cities, claiming that extrapolating crime rates per 100,000 citizens skews the data, making smaller municipalities such as Sarasota — population 53,055 — seem more dangerous than they really are.
According to FBI UCR data, the city of Sarasota reported 565 violent crimes in 2006. That number dropped to 425 by 2012 — a 25% reduction in five years.
Total property crimes in Sarasota also decreased from 2006 to 2012, falling from 3,583 to 2,897 — a 19% drop.
According to FBI data, however, Sarasota's crime rate is still significantly higher than nearby municipalities — about three times higher than North Port and 1.3 times higher than Bradenton.
Comparing Sarasota to cities like North Port could be problematic, Capt. Pat Robinson, commander of SPD's uniform services division, argued.
“North Port is a unique city,” Robinson said. “We all have dissimilar populations. Comparing city to city is not an accurate comparison.”
Sarasota's rate of crime reduction has outpaced national and state trends, indicating the effectiveness of police department initiatives, Robinson said.
Nationwide, violent crime fell by 15.4% during the last five years, and property crime fell 8.3%. Statewide, crime was down about 10% in the same period.
“It's not just a national drop we're seeing,” Robinson said. “It's the hard work of the department that led to the precipitous drop in the crime rate that we're seeing.”
Moyer added that several recent initiatives such as DiPino’s community policing program would continue to bring down Sarasota’s crime rate.
“If we continue the way we're going, we will continue to see our crime rate go down,” he said.
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