CLEARWATER — Crime in Clearwater dropped nearly 7 percent in the first six months of this year, according to recently released numbers from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
The decline may be attributed to the department's efforts to combat burglaries, robberies, prostitution and drugs — crimes that continue to reoccur in the city, said Clearwater police Chief Anthony Holloway.
"We target those four categories and we're seeing crime go down," he said.
For example, the number of burglaries reported in the first six months of 2012 totaled 415, compared to 383 during the same time period this year, FDLE figures show.
The department analyzes crime patterns to determine how best to use resources. Officers often park their cars to walk and chat with residents — a strategy the chief dubbed "park, walk and talk" — in areas where property crimes have been reported.
Clearwater is one of several Tampa Bay cities that experienced a drop in crime the first six months of 2013. Tampa dropped 9.3 percent, Largo 5.9 percent.
Although burglaries slumped in the first half of the year, Holloway said they may peak again at the end of this year due to the holidays. Residents often leave Christmas presents in their cars, attracting burglars.
And with cooler temperatures, "people tend to leave windows and doors unlocked for a longer period of time," he said.
To deter prostitution, police conduct undercover stings when resident complaints arise. From January through October, officers made 57 prostitution-related arrests.
Yet prostitution persists in the Gateway area east of downtown and along parts of Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard, the chief said. Those charged with prostitution will spend time in jail but return to the streets once they're free, Holloway said. That causes problems for undercover officers, who are now recognized by those they have just arrested.
"We know they're out because then people start calling and complaining, so then we have to figure out how to do it again," Holloway said.
Some prostitutes have stopped walking the streets, instead seeking clients through advertising websites such as backpage.com, making it harder for police to track them.
Narcotics detectives continue to encounter synthetic marijuana in the streets, Holloway said. In July, officers converged on four stores and seized the largest haul of synthetic marijuana in the city's history — more than 18,000 packets in one store alone.
Detectives also find prescription drugs as well as some crack cocaine, heroin and most recently MDMA, a modified form of ecstasy known as "Molly."
Contact Laura C. Morel at [email protected] or (727)445-4157. To write a letter to the editor, visit tampabay.com/letters.