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Focus on repeat criminals cited as factor in St. Petersburg crime drop

ST. PETERSBURG — Police often say the majority of crimes are committed by a handful of criminals. That's why the St. Petersburg Police Department is keeping closer tabs on repeat offenders.

The strategy seems to be working. The number of reported crimes in the city fell 14 percent in the first six months of the year, compared to the same period last year, according to the latest statistics released by police.

Violent crimes are down 15 percent. Property crimes are down 14 percent. In fact, every category of crime has fallen.

Police Chief Chuck Harmon said it's always hard to say exactly what is and isn't working when it comes to a city's crime rate. But riding herd on repeat offenders is the No. 1 reason officials cited for the falling crime rate.

"We're sometimes re-arresting the same people over and over and over again," Harmon said. "So we really had a comprehensive effort to identify, analyze and respond to those criminals we see most often involved in property or violent crimes."

Sometimes it's as simple as making sure detectives have the time to go to a court hearing to convince a judge not to reduce a defendant's bond. If they stay in jail, they can't re-offend.

"(A judge) might not know that this guy is suspected or involved in other crimes," Harmon said. "When a detective points that out, most of the time the judge is not going to reduce their bond or let them out."

This effort is modeled after the same one that saw detectives and juvenile probation officers keeping tabs on teen car thieves, who police blamed for the city's skyrocketing vehicle thefts.

The falling crime rate is welcome news to a city that saw a sharp rise in property crimes last year.

Auto thefts were up 55 percent in 2009, driving an 11 percent rise in property crimes and a 9 percent rise in all crimes compared to the year before. Even the former mayor's house was burglarized.

But in the first half of 2010, auto thefts plummeted 24 percent. There were 219 fewer vehicle thefts compared to the 920 stolen at the same point in 2009.

The Midtown area saw crime drop 19 percent. Violent crime was down 24 percent, led by a 32 percent fall in robberies.

The data from Childs Park is even more pronounced: Total crime fell 22 percent, and property crimes plummeted 31 percent. But violent crime stayed constant, and there was a rise in forcible sex offenses: 11 such attacks were reported in Childs Park, police said, compared to the six from last year.

Domestic violence and drugs are to blame for the city's six homicides this year, police said, one less than this point last year. Three women were killed by men they were in relationships with; one man was killed during a drug deal; another was a bystander killed in a fight over drugs; a third man died in an armed robbery.

"I'm pleased we're seeing a good trend," said Mayor Bill Foster. "I wish I could take credit. But our officers are working very hard and they're very motivated.

"But that doesn't bring peace to victims of crime. No one who's a victim of crime cares that rates have fallen."

Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8472.

A closer look at the numbers

First half 2010 First half 2009 % change

Homicides 6 7 -14 percent

Aggravated assault 922 1,046 -12 percent

Auto thefts 701 920 -24 percent

Burglaries 1,769 2,213 -20 percent

Robberies 347 465 -25 percent

Source: St. Petersburg police

Focus on repeat criminals cited as factor in St. Petersburg crime drop 07/14/10 [Last modified: Thursday, July 15, 2010 1:05am]

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