Crime in Escambia County dropped considerably in the first six months of 2014, compared to the same period last year, according to the county Sheriff's Office.
Released Friday morning, the semi-annual Uniform Crime Reporting numbers show that violent crime in Escambia is down by 16%, while the total crime index is down 11%. Sheriff David Morgan says the mid-year report is “very encouraging” and he attributes the drops to several factors.
“Obviously, the credit goes to the men and women of the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office,” said Morgan. “But we’re also getting an uptick in community involvement. We’ve gone from 13 neighborhood watches in 2009, my first year in office, to this year (in which) we have 127.”
Robberies decreased from 209 in 2013 to 127 in 2014, about a 40% drop. Homicides dropped about 22%, from nine murders last year to seven so far this year. Reductions of between 9% and 20% are found in forcible sex offenses, aggravated assaults, burglaries, larceny and motor vehicle theft.
Last September, Morgan participated in an emotional meeting with members of the African-American community, shortly after three shootings in a ten-day period that left two dead – including a 14-year-old girl. At the time, he said leads had been virtually zero in the cases.
Fast forward to today. Morgan says that meeting appeared to be something of a catalyst in ramping up cooperation in some parts of the county.
“We’ve had a tremendous outreach, specifically in the black community,” Morgan said. “Through churches and other civic organizations, we’ve had a couple of tips in some recent homicides that are directly related to our minority community stepping up.”
And while fingerprints, DNA material and other high-tech investigative techniques are important for sealing the deal, the Sheriff says there will always be a need for good, old-fashioned police work in solving crimes – and that includes the use of tips and informants.
While the crime rate is down, the UCR also shows slightly fewer cases solved this year, with the overall clearance rate -- the percentage of crimes closed with an arrest — dropping about three points.
As for the second half of 2014, Escambia Sheriff David Morgan says one key to a continued drop in crime is keeping open the dialogue with the community, which he says is almost like a safety valve for preventing murders and other violent crimes. But he also has a warning that a reduction in overall crime as a whole likely is out of reach at least in our lifetimes.
“As long as there is a market for prostitution, illegal drugs, et cetera, crime is a fact of life that we’ll all live with,” said Morgan. “It’s just the levels that our community determines as acceptable is what we have to work on. But it’s not acceptable here.”
Crime statistics are compiled in-house by most law enforcement agencies in the state and submitted to the FDLE twice a year for the Uniform Crime Report.