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Increases in crime due to change in approach and more staff, says police chief

Longboat Key Chief of Police George Turner breaks down the key reasons behind an increase in certain crime reports from fiscal year 2022 to fiscal year 2023.

The Longboat Key Police Department swore in two new officers, Mike Rizzo and Adam Swinford, on Aug. 14.
The Longboat Key Police Department swore in two new officers, Mike Rizzo and Adam Swinford, on Aug. 14.
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An increase in the number of arrests doesn’t always mean a cause for concern. 

That’s the perspective of Longboat Key Chief of Police George Turner when looking at year-over-year statistics for the town.

From fiscal year 2022 to fiscal year 2023, broken down into quarters, some areas of the crime report from the Longboat Key Police showed increases. 

There were 18 misdemeanor arrests in the third quarter of fiscal year 2022 compared to 73 in that same quarter of FY23. 

No felony arrests were made in the third quarter of FY22, but 16 occurred in the third quarter of FY23. 

But Turner said it's important to understand that this increase doesn’t necessarily mean there is an increase in criminal activity on the island.

“Really, the numbers appear like there was a lot more (crime),” Turner said. “There’s not a lot more crime out here, and I think over time stats will prove that it’s gone down.” 

He said there are three key reasons for the seeming increase. 

First, since the start of FY22, there has been an increase in visitors to the island with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

Fiscal year 2022 began with October 2021, when the pandemic was a more prominent issue. Resorts weren’t at full operation, Turner said. 

More people and traffic on the island at the end of FY23 is one factor behind the increased number of traffic and parking violations.

For example, in FY22 Q3, there were 112 issued traffic tickets. That number increased to 403 in FY23 Q3. 

The second reason behind increased numbers is the increase in staff, bringing the department back up to being fully staffed. At the moment, the department has 24 officers — 19 full-time and five part-time. 

Back in FY22, the department was short six people, about 40% less than what Turner considers fully-staffed. 

More officers means more cars patrolling, in turn leading to more crime being caught and recorded. 

Turner is also trying to now focus on hiring staff who have a longer-term goal in mind with the department. 

Previously, the department hired a lot of older officers near retirement. The officers would serve on the force for a couple of years before retiring, Turner said. 

“Now, we’re looking for some younger, experienced officers that are dedicated to the job, at the top of their class and are around here to do the kind of things that we do,” Turner said. “We do a lot of things that other agencies just don’t have the time to do. We’re here for the citizens of Longboat Key.”

The recent increase in police salaries contributed to Turner’s ability to hire officers. 

This goes along with Turner’s third explanation: a change in philosophy. Turner took over the department in March 2022, which would be around the second quarter of FY22. 

Turner’s philosophy is “proactive, instead of reactive.” 

“Major crimes have gone down,” Turner said. “Murders, robberies, burglaries, those kinds of things have gone down, and I think that could be attributed to our proactive enforcement.”

This means higher visibility on the island, but also getting ahead of future incidents. For example, if a car is observed passing in a no-passing zone or a car is parked on a right of way, a ticket would be issued. This proactivity prevents a future incident like an accident. 

More traffic warnings are given than tickets, but the same can’t be said for parking. 

In Q3 of FY23, 45 parking warnings were issued, and 155 tickets. That same time of year in FY22, there were seven warnings and 192 tickets. 

Turner said prior to FY22, more slack was given — more warnings than tickets — because of some new parking ordinances. But now, the educational period has passed, according to Turner.

“In some places they’ve gone up year to year, in some places they’ve gone down year to year,” he said. “It’s just a matter of our manpower levels, and whether people are obeying parking restrictions on the island like they should.” 

By the numbers

The report is split up by the town's fiscal year quarters. Quarter 1 runs from October to December, Q2 from January to March, Q3 from April to June and Q4 from July to September. 

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect Turner's statement that major crime going down was "attributed" to proactive enforcement.



Carter Weinhofer

Carter Weinhofer is the Longboat Key news reporter for the Observer. Originally from a small town in Pennsylvania, he moved to St. Petersburg to attend Eckerd College until graduating in 2023. During his entire undergraduate career, he worked at the student newspaper, The Current, holding positions from science reporter to editor-in-chief.

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