ST. PETERSBURG — Last year, crime in the city dipped nearly 20 percent below the five-year average. Violent crime fell almost 12 percent, while property crime ticked down 3 percent.
"The last three or four years have been very good for crime stats," police Chief Chuck Harmon told community leaders gathered recently for the annual Officer of the Year luncheon.
It's unclear, however, if that downward trend will continue.
Already, police have seen a spike in auto thefts in the first two months of 2013.
There were 162 cars stolen in January and February this year, compared with 110 in the same period last year, according to the department's uniform crime reports. That's a 47 percent increase.
Other types of crime have started to creep up as well. As of the end of February, the city's total crime was up 14.4 percent compared with the same period last year. Within that, violent crime was up 8 percent and property crime was up 15.3 percent.
Harmon and officials at the department are paying close attention.
"I'm not overly concerned at this particular point, but I guess it does concern me a little," the chief said. "If we didn't have last year, these numbers wouldn't look too bad."
Crime is still 2.4 percent below the five-year average for this time of year.
Auto thefts have seen the largest jump by far. And it isn't just regular citizens falling victim. n March, a police officer woke to find his unmarked police car missing from his driveway. Police believe someone broke into the detective's personal vehicle, where they then found keys to the police car. Hours later, officers found the Chevy Impala floating in Lake Maggiore. The contents of the trunk — guns and ammo — were gone.
Police said an anonymous tip led them to the guns a couple days later but, as of yet, no arrests have been made.
Authorities say the recent spike is fueled mainly by people leaving themselves open to crime.
Police said that of the 248 auto thefts between Jan. 1 and March 25, 65 percent of the victims had left their keys in the ignition.
Some cars were stolen when people left their cars running at gas stations, convenience stores and day care centers. Police have now made a push to remind people to keep their cars locked.
Burglaries also are up by about 30 percent. There were 560 through February, compared with 429 in the first two months of 2012. The increase in violent crimes appears to be attributed to slightly more sex crimes — 30 in January and February compared with 21 during the same time in 2012.
The latest statistics are just a snapshot of the beginning of the year, officials said. Harmon stressed that the picture is just starting to form.
"People just need to keep it in perspective," Harmon said. "Two months is not 12 months."
Kameel Stanley can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8643.