NEW PORT RICHEY — On a warm night in November, a man wearing a gray sweatshirt with the hood up and sunglasses knocked on the door at a Beacon Woods home.
Francis "Frankie" Soto invited the man inside. They went into a private room to talk. A few minutes later, two other people in the house came running out. Neighbors called deputies, who found Soto, 26, dead with a gunshot wound.
"Mr. Soto, he's a high-probability victim," Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco said in a news conference after the killing, "which means when you're involved in drugs, when you're dealing, when you've had several arrests and you're in the game, you have a higher probability that you're going to be a victim at some point in your life than somebody who was just innocent and minding their own business."
Detectives arrested Matthew Walter Mebane, who would say he was there under the guise of buying marijuana from Soto, but intended to rob him, reports state.
Murders increased by 82 percent in Pasco County between 2012 and 2013, according to new Uniform Crime Reports, compiled by the FBI and released Tuesday. Nocco said half of the 20 murder cases were in the same vein as Soto's murder: They were drug-related. Also up is the number of reported rapes countywide, which rose 26 percent last year to 122. The overall crime rate decreased 19 percent in as much time.
While noting that murders are nearly impossible to prevent, Nocco said he has taken measures in the last year he hopes will decrease murders. Several months ago, the agency combined its narcotics and major crimes units. Nocco said investigators working together will solve crimes faster.
"Narcotics is usually the nexus between violence and crime," he said.
Contributing to the increase in rapes, Nocco said, is a number of prostitutes who have been raped while working on U.S. 19. In December, the Sheriff's Office reported a man impersonating a deputy coerced prostitutes into his truck, where he would rape them.
However, most rapes are domestic or involve acquaintances in some capacity, Nocco said. He expects there are more cases of rape that have not been reported.
"Trust is a big factor," he said. "If citizens believe that we are going to take their cases seriously, then they are more likely to report crime."
Other crimes — robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and larceny — saw a decrease in 2013, and for that Nocco pointed to intelligence-led policing and increased awareness. The agency employed neighborhood canvassing and its "know what's yours, lock your doors" campaign last year to deter auto thefts. Intelligence-led policing helps investigators catch repeat offenders.
"We're still finding new ways to implement intelligence-led policing to enhance our crime fighting ability to protect our community and families," Nocco said in a news release. "Although statistics do not always paint the whole picture, this information is indicative that we are moving in the right direction."
Contact Alex Orlando at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.