NEW PORT RICHEY — Overall, crime in Pasco County declined last year: fewer burglaries and beatings and less shoplifting. But, within those numbers, there is one notable exception.
Domestic violence crimes shot up 25.8 percent over the previous year, according to statistics released Friday by the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.
Last year there were 3,363 cases of domestic violence — ranging from murder to assault and stalking — compared to 2,674 in 2008.
Although Pasco saw half as many murders — 11 last year, compared to 22 in 2008 — homicides related to domestic violence doubled from three to six.
"I'm not surprised," said Penny Morrill, director of Sunrise of Pasco County, a domestic violence shelter in east Pasco that offers shelter, counseling and other services to battered women.
Morrill said she believes part of it stems from the stress of the economy and foreclosure. Couples might stay in their abusive relationships longer because of fewer jobs and less money.
Morrill said to combat this increase, the community needs to get involved. If you know someone in an abusive situation, she said, call one of the abuse hotlines "and ask, 'What can I do to help?' "
She said the hotlines can help make a safety plan for the victim to get out of the situation. Sunrise's number is (352) 521-3120 and the toll-free Florida Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-500-1119.
Each year law enforcement agencies across the state tally their crimes and send the numbers to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The numbers released by the Sheriff's Office are preliminary — they haven't been checked and accepted by FDLE yet. Statistics for the city agencies in Pasco County — Dade City, Zephyrhills, New Port Richey and Port Richey — were not available Friday.
The overall crime rate dropped by 7.8 percent in unincorporated Pasco County in 2009, according to the Sheriff's Office. There were 14,835 reported crimes in 2009. Of those, 1,443 were violent.
"We have one of the lowest violent crime rates in the state," said Sheriff Bob White.
One factor fueling the decrease, he said, is his agency's high clearance rate — the number of cases closed by arrest. The statewide average is 24 percent. The Pasco County Sheriff's Office averages 31.7 percent, White said.
If criminals are in jail, he said, they're not out on the streets committing more crimes.
"It's not rocket science," he said. "You take the bad apples out of the bunch and the rest don't spoil as fast."
Although White said "we live in a safe county," he urged residents to do what they can to keep it that way and reduce their chances of being a victim. Shut your garage door. Lock your windows. Don't leave valuables —computers, handbags, prescription medication — in your cars.
"If they don't lock their cars, then it's an invitation" for criminals, White said.
In other county statistics:
• Forcible sex offenses, such as rape and fondling, decreased by 1.3 percent. There were 152 cases in 2009 and 154 in 2008.
• Aggravated assault was down 6.4 percent with 942 cases in 2009 and 1,006 in 2008.
• Burglary declined 5.7 percent. There were 3,809 cases in 2009 and 4,040 in 2008.
• Larceny — which includes thefts like shoplifting and purse-snatching — decreased 7.7 percent, from 9,452 in 2008 to 8,723 in 2009.
• Motor vehicle thefts were down 21.5 percent. In 2009, there were 860 vehicles stolen as opposed to 1,096 in 2008.
• Robbery cases increased last year by 7.3 percent. There were 338 cases in 2009 and 315 in 2008.
"We are always striving to do better," White said.
Considering the county's population increase and the area's difficult economic times, "we've been fortunate this year," he said.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6229.