After steadily falling for years, the state's crime rate slightly increased in 2007, according to an annual state crime report released Friday.
But Pinellas and Hillsborough counties both bucked the statewide trend.
Crime fell slightly in Pinellas and decreased significantly in Hillsborough, the state report says. Hernando County's crime rate per 100,000 population decreased by 4.6 percent in 2007. But the same crime measure rose in Pasco County by 0.07 percent.
The state's index crime rate increased 1.4 percent from 2006. There were 4,695 index crimes per 100,000 residents in 2007, up from 4,632 in 2006.
Index crimes include murder, forcible sex offenses, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft.
Kristen Perezluha, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, said it was too early to know the reason behind the increase.
"It's going to take some additional time to determine if we're seeing a long-term trend or if its unique to this year," Perezluha said.
The 2007 increase is surprising since the state's crime index has decreased in recent years. Since 1997, the index crime rate has gone down by 35.7 percent.
In Hillsborough County, the crime rate dropped 7.9 percent, with fewer rapes, assaults, larcenies and a large drop in car theft.
Spokesman J.D. Calloway said the Sheriff's Office had saturated crime "hot spots" and launched a successful campaign to get citizens to lock their car doors.
"We do know we had a nice healthy drop in the crime rate," he said.
But he warned that it was hard to interpret the numbers, since there were so many variables from county to county.
In Pasco County, where the population swelled by 10,000 residents from 2006 to 2007, crime figures rose only slightly. The number of murders, which spiked to 28 in 2006, dropped to 18 in 2007.
Sheriff's Office spokesman Kevin Doll pointed to the agency's clearance rate — which refers, basically, to crimes being solved — of nearly 30 percent as a sign of success. The statewide clearance rate is 22 percent. "That shows an agency is working hard to combat crime," he said.
In Pinellas, the total index crime rate fell from 5,000 per 100,000 people in 2006 to 4,942 per 100,000 in 2007. That's a decrease of 1.1 percent.
Bill Doniel, a spokesman for the St. Petersburg police, said the decrease was welcome news and credited increased vigilance by local residents.
"Law enforcement throughout the Tampa Bay area must give credit to the citizens," Doniel said. "We've seen an involvement of the citizens in reporting crime and also reporting crime activity that leads to suspects and eventually an arrest."
Times staff writers Joel Anderson and Molly Moorhead contributed to this report. Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8472.