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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Did crime go up or down in 2015 in Hillsborough County?



The other day, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office put out a news release saying that crime last year went down. Specifically, “the overall crime rate in 2015 was reduced by 3 percent,” according to the release. “The violent crime rate is the lowest in Hillsborough County since 1985.”

At first glance, these stats appear to conflict with what sheriff’s officials said just last month.

On Feb. 18, they announced the results of a four-month operation aimed at prolific criminals, noting the effort was sparked by a 5 percent increase in violent crime as of October.

So what was it? Did crime go up or down?

The Times asked the sheriff’s office for more information about their crime data. They sent us the full record of data on both violent crimes (murder, rape, robbery, etc.)  and property crimes (burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft) for each year going back to 1985.

“Our press release pointed out that even with an increase in population which brings additional crime, we kept the violent crime rate at 2.2 per 1,000 population which is still the lowest since 1985,” Hillsborough sheriff’s spokesman Larry McKinnon wrote in an email. “We also lowered the overall crime rate 3 percent.”

As is often the case with statistics, the devil is in the details.

The data shows that there were more violent crimes in Hillsborough County in 2015 (a total of 2,031) than there were in the year before (1,937). That’s an increase of about 4.8 percent.

However, accounting for an increase of 17,125 in the county’s official population (which totals 905,007), the rate of violent crime stayed roughly the same (about 2.2 violent crimes per 1,000 people).

At the same time, property crimes in the county went down, from 16,149 in 2014 to 15,521 in 2015. That’s a decrease of about 3.8 percent.

With the property and violent crime numbers combined, the total number of crimes committed in Hillsborough County was 18,086 in 2014 and 17,552 in 2015. That’s a decrease of about 2.9 percent.

So the overall number of crimes did go down. But the number of violent crimes went up.

As for the violent crime rate being the lowest since 1985, it is indeed much lower than it was 30 years ago. Back then, the rate was 6.2 per 1,000 people. (The rate reached a high of 8.5 per 1,000 people in 1992).

The sheriff’s office attributes the long-term decrease to changes in their policing strategy.

“In 2009, we instituted intelligence-led policing, a policing model focusing on the small percentage of those who commit crimes and developing tactical methods to monitor, catch and jail them,” McKinnon wrote. “Hard work and proactive law enforcement with our federal and state prosecuting partners, is a big part of the overall success.”

[Last modified: Friday, April 1, 2016 11:25am]


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