BROOKSVILLE — Crime in unincorporated Hernando County continued a downward trend last year, the Sheriff's Office reported Thursday.
The total number of violent and property crimes fell by nearly 12 percent in 2012, according to figures recently submitted to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The numbers do not include the city of Brooksville.
Sheriff Al Nienhuis was quick to praise his agency while noting that crime has continued to fall throughout Florida for some two decades, despite one of the worst economic periods in the country's history.
"Anytime it goes down, it's great," Nienhuis said. "Obviously, if we weren't doing our job, it would go down less or even go up, and the criminals would be able to get away with more."
Nienhuis said he was not overly concerned that the clearance rate — essentially, the percentage of crimes solved — fell by nearly 3 percentage points, to 33.5 percent.
"When you have fewer crimes, sometimes it makes it harder to solve a higher percentage," he said. "It's still in the same ballpark, but we're going to keep a close eye on it.
Last year in Hernando, there were 4,605 offenses committed in the seven so-called index categories: murder, forcible sex, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft.
Talking about crime trends in Hernando County requires some context and perspective. The smaller the jurisdiction, the smaller the number of offenses in each category. That means percentages can change wildly from year to year, even if the number of offenses doesn't change much.
The only one of the seven categories that increased in Hernando during 2012 is a good example. The number of forcible sex offenses rose from 44 to 51. That counts as a jump of 15.9 percent.
Robbery saw one of the steepest declines, from 69 offenses to 49. Percentage change: 29.
One of most fearsome categories, aggravated assault, dropped by 10.4 percent, to 335 offenses.
The percentages become more significant in the categories with the most offenses — burglary and larceny.
Burglaries include cases of forced entry, attempted entry or when a criminal walks through an unlocked door. There were 1,184 of those kinds of crimes in Hernando last year, a decrease of 10.4 percent.
Larcenies include bicycle thefts, shoplifting and vehicle break-ins, among other offenses. There were 2,830 of those last year, 411 fewer than in 2011 — a decrease of 12.7 percent.
There were 154 motor vehicle thefts last year, eight fewer than the previous year. That's a rate of one every couple of days.
There were eight murders in Hernando in 2012, half a dozen fewer than the previous year, and the fewest since 2007, when four people were killed.
The numbers released Thursday did not include the crime rate, the ratio of crime to the population. The rate for Hernando County in 2011, for example, was 3,156 crimes for every 100,000 residents. With some simple division, it can be expressed as 3.156 crimes for every 100 residents.
Crime rates will be released in the coming weeks, along with statewide data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Nienhuis said he doesn't expect the local rate to change much, and might improve some because the total number of crimes dropped while the county's population has remained relatively static.
Despite the Great Recession, crime is on a downward trend nationwide. In Florida, the 2011 rate was the lowest it's been in 41 years. Experts say the likely reasons range from an aging population to increased technology that helps police prevent crime.
Nienhuis offered another factor: longer sentences for repeat offenders, especially violent criminals.
"Somebody who's violent is probably not going to be violent to just one person, and someone who holds up a store is typically not going to do that one time," he said.
Brooksville police Chief George Turner said Thursday he would release the city's crime statistics today.
Tony Marrero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1431. On Twitter: @TMarreroTimes.