"Florida is enjoying its lowest crime rate in 39 years."
Gov. Charlie Crist, on his U.S. Senate campaign website.
We turned to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which issued a news release April 7 stating, "Governor Crist announces lowest crime rate in 39 years."
The purpose of the news release was to announce the state's Annual Uniform Crime Report for 2009. It stated that "the report indicates the state's overall index crime rate has reached a 39-year low, declining by 6.4 percent in 2009, compared to 2008. The number of violent crimes (murder, forcible sex offenses, robbery and aggravated assault) committed in Florida dropped 10 percent last year; the number of non-violent crimes (burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft) decreased 6.2 percent."
The report includes offenses reported during 2009 and data submitted by 409 of the 415 local, county and state law enforcement agencies that serve approximately 99.9 percent of the state's population, according to the news release.
The FDLE's website includes a chart of crime stats starting in 1971. For 1971 it states that Florida's population was about 7.04 million and the total number of crimes was 399,055. Those numbers translated to a rate of 5,667.5 crimes per 100,000 people. By 2009, the state's population had risen to about 18.75 million and the total number of crimes was 824,559. That translated to a crime rate of 4,397.5 crimes per 100,000 — or the lowest since the state started counting in 1971.
So clearly the crime rate in 2009 was the lowest it had been since 1971.
But it's worth noting that the drop in the crime rate below the 1971 figure — 5,667.5 — occurred years before Crist became governor in January 2007. The rate fell to 5,604.3 in 2000 and then stayed below that 1971 figure every year since. The rate was 4,632 in 2006, rose to 4,694.7 in 2007, rose to 4,699.8 in 2008 and then fell to 4,397.5. In other words, for two of Crist's years as governor, the crime rate increased while in one year it decreased.
We wondered did FDLE collect the data the same way in 1971 as it did for 2009? We spoke to Kristen Chernosky, a spokeswoman at the FDLE. She said the FDLE collected the data in 1971 the same as today — by asking law enforcement agencies across the state to voluntarily submit it. We asked: Did the vast majority comply during the first year?
Chernosky said there were 334 agencies that reported in 1971, but Chernosky was uncertain how many agencies existed at that time, so she didn't have a percentage of reporting compliance.
Of course, crime statistics are only as good as the agencies that report them. In at least a few high-profile instances, police agencies were accused of doctoring crime reports.
So how does Crist's claim stack up? He's right that the state's crime rate in 2009 was lower than it was in 1971. But Crist omits that it had dropped below the 1971 rate before he became governor and that the rate went up his first two years in office. We rate this claim Mostly True.
Edited for print. For more, go to politifact.com/florida.