TAMPA — A day after the county rolled out 2009 crime statistics, boasting a 10 percent drop, the city of Tampa one-upped that report.
Citywide, crime decreased 15.8 percent in 2009, the Tampa Police Department announced Tuesday. This is the seventh consecutive year the city's crime rate has dropped, for total decrease of 56 percent since 2002.
"I couldn't be any prouder of this accomplishment," said police Chief Jane Castor.
She credited Mayor Pam Iorio's leadership and a sharper focus on four types of crime: car thefts, car burglaries, home burglaries and robberies. Castor said those "gateway crimes" often involve repeat offenders and can lead to violent crimes.
"There is no such thing as a minor crime in the city of Tampa," she said.
Violent crime dropped 12.7 percent last year. The department estimates the overall decrease has resulted in about 20,000 fewer victims.
Tampa police used the same methodology they've used for many years, said police spokeswoman Laura McElroy. Their analysts follow the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program, she said. The program was developed in 1929 to ensure reliable, uniform crime statistics between agencies.
In 2007, Tampa's crime statistics were backed up by a Florida Department of Law Enforcement audit requested by state Sen. Ronda Storms, who said she had received complaints that Tampa police records were inaccurate.
The FDLE found a few flaws but nothing significant enough to change the city's crime rate.
In 2009, the Tampa Police Department saw a decrease in every area of crime reported. In the county, one category increased slightly: burglary, which went up 0.1 percent.
Iorio took the microphone at a Tuesday news conference and said Tampa's reduced crime rate is one of her proudest accomplishments.
"This is a tremendous boost in our quality of life," she said.
She partly credited former police Chief Stephen Hogue, who retired in September. Iorio named him chief in 2003, when Tampa had one of the highest crime rates for a city of its size.
Castor also credited community leaders, who have worked with the department to reduce crime. Several leaders contacted by the Times on Tuesday said they've noticed a steady decrease in crime in their communities.
Beach Park Homeowners Association member Emmy Purcell Reynolds said she's received fewer complaints about crime from area residents, and Historic Ybor Neighborhood Civic Association president Tony LaColla attributed the steady decrease to community-focused officers.
"They interact well with the neighbors and business owners on Seventh Avenue, and they're very responsive to what we need," he said.
Castor said the department is aiming for a reduction of at least 5 percent in 2010. She said police can reach that goal with the help of the new rapid offender control squad.
In January, the department combined two squads to form the rapid offender control squad. Those officers are tasked with identifying crime offenders and hot spots to help prevent crimes and get repeat offenders off the streets.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3433.