TAMPA — In 2007, crime decreased by 10 percent in Tampa, the fifth consecutive year the crime rate has dropped, the Tampa Police Department announced Thursday morning.
Murders increased slightly, from 26 to 28, the only major crime category to increase from 2006 to 2007, according to statistics provided by the department.
"We've got some good news," Tampa police Chief Stephen Hogue said at the start of the news conference.
Hogue said the decrease in the number of crimes in 2007 is part of a larger trend. In the last five years, crime in the city has dropped 42.5 percent, Hogue said. The number of crimes has continued to drop, even as the city's population grows.
The biggest drop was in motor vehicle thefts, which decreased by about 30 percent.
The city's decreased crime rate follows a national trend of decreasing crime since the 1980s.
Hogue was hired in September 2003 with a clear focus of reducing the city's crime rate. In 2003, Tampa had the highest crime rate for property crimes and the second-highest rate for violent crimes among U.S. cities similar in size.
The chief said the FBI has not yet released crime rate figures for other cities similar to Tampa for 2007, but that he's optimistic about the city's standing.
The crimes included in Tampa's statistics are murder, forcible sex offenses, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft. In 2002, the police reported a total of 35,380 of those crimes. In 2007, there were only 20,350 of those crimes, police say.
The department's top brass credited the decrease to a reorganization of the department in recent years.
The changes include a bigger focus on regularly analyzing crime statistics to spot trends and to stop prolific robbers, sending large numbers of officers to a scene immediately after a crime is reported and putting detectives on night shifts to get started sooner on solving crimes.
Officers gave the example of a burglar who targeted several stores in one part of the city. The change in crime analysis helped officers quickly see the trend. Several officers went immediately to the area, and someone saw the man and arrested him.
The department also has focused on four major types of crimes: auto theft, auto burglary, burglary and robbery. Unlike murders, which are usually hard to predict or to prevent, theft and robbery can be curbed, especially because thieves and robbers tend to commit multiple crimes.
The department's crime statistics came under scrutiny in 2007. State Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, requested a state audit of the department's crime statistics, saying she had received complaints from constituents about the accuracy of the department's records.
The audit found a few flaws, but nothing significant enough to change the city's crime rate, according to a report released in July by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. That agency's review found the statistics had an error rate of 0.4 percent, a number the police chief has said he considers statistically insignificant.
Hogue pointed to Ybor City as a good case study.
"Ybor City is really one of our success stories," he said. Despite clubs that remain trouble spots, Ybor City has become a safer part of the city, he said.
Tony Lacolla, 32, the president of the Historic Ybor Civic Association, attended the news conference and said he agreed with the chief's statements about the community. He's noticed an increase in police presence in the area, and he feels safer at his home.
"When a crime happens, they're on top of it immediately," he said. "From the time I've lived there, there has been a visible reduction in crime."
Researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Abbie VanSickle can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3373.