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Crime still climbing in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — Burglaries and thefts continue to climb across the city, according to the latest numbers.

Harder to measure is the rising anxiety over crime.

"Everybody's frustrated, everybody is pretty nervous," said Wildwood Heights Neighborhood Association president Lillian Baker, 36. "It's a sign of the times."

Reported crime rose 9 percent, according to St. Petersburg Police Department statistics, compared with the first six months of 2008. Fueling that is a 10 percent jump in property crimes like auto theft and burglary.

This past month of June saw the most burglaries — 418 reported break-ins — out of any single month in nearly four years.

Crime has been a major issue during the mayor's race. So too has been the performance and future employment of the city's top cop.

Police Chief Chuck Harmon traced the jump in property crimes back to the prevailing economic crises: rising unemployment and foreclosures.

The chief said abandoned homes and businesses are still being targeted in tough times, and reiterated that some still aren't properly securing their properties and vehicles from potential thieves.

"I'm still seeing a lot of people who are making themselves a target," Harmon said. "They're leaving things unlocked, leaving garage doors open, leaving cars unlocked."

Two categories of property crimes, larceny and auto theft, both saw the biggest jumps at 12 percent.

The numbers are even higher in Midtown. Larceny there is up 16 percent, and auto thefts up 10 percent. In fact, nearly every category of crime in Midtown is up. Overall crime, property crime and violent crime are up 10, 12 and 4 percent, respectively.

But the chief said there are also signs that some crimes may be leveling off. Violent crime citywide was up 3 percent in April but only up by 2 percent in June.

In fact, most categories of violent crime are down: robbery fell 12 percent and homicides dropped by nearly half.

There have been seven murders in the first half of this year, compared with 13 over the same period in 2008.

Four of this year's murder victims were women killed by male partners in domestic disputes, police said.

However, two of this year's murder victims were children: 15-year-old Malayshia Gamble and 8-year-old Paris Whitehead-Hamilton.

Harmon said his department is addressing the rise in property crimes by assigning more manpower to the problem. There used to be just one crime prevention officer for the entire city. Now there are three, one for each patrol district. In recent weeks the burglary unit went from six to 10 detectives, and the economic crimes unit went from eight to nine detectives.

St. Petersburg also has the most sworn officers in city history: 541. That's one more than the budgeted maximum. Thanks to federal stimulus money, the city can hire and train 10 more officers this year.

Yet the chief still has his critics. Midtown native, resident and community activist Theresa "Momma Tee" Lassiter, 53, said she'd like to see some of that extra police manpower in her neighborhood.

"He may have said that they're going to do (assign extra officers)," she said. "But I live down here. I don't see nothing new or different that they're doing."

Jamal Thalji can be reached at or (727) 893-8472.

Crime still climbing in St. Petersburg 08/04/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 4, 2009 11:52pm]
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