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Crime rate dropped 5 percent, FBI says

With a notable exception, the crime rate in the Tampa Bay area dropped for the first six months of 1990, the FBI said Monday. The overall crime rate for the first half of 1990 was 5 percent lower than the first six months of 1989, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation figures. That compared favorably with the national crime rate, which remained unchanged from the first half of 1989.

Most types of violent crime were on the decline in the Tampa Bay area, while they rose nationwide.

The notable exception was the murder rate in St. Petersburg, which jumped 15.5 percent. The increase nationally was 8 percent.

St. Petersburg has had 35 murders this year as of Monday, St. Petersburg police spokesman Wendell Creager said. Police investigated 48 homicides last year.

"I don't think it's fair to categorize it as any one thing," Creager said. "As we continue to become a big city, we'll probably continue to inherit a few big city problems."

Spokesmen for local police departments acknowledged that the FBI figures look good, but warned that they are statistically insignificant or already have become outdated.

For instance, the murder rate decreased 66 percent in Clearwater, a phenomenal achievement on paper, but not so impressive when actual figures are noted, Clearwater police spokesman Wayne Shelor said. Three people were murdered in the first half of 1989. Only one person was killed between January and June this year, the FBI said.

While the FBI figures show the murder rate in Tampa dropped 7 percent between January and June, the rate has shot back up. To date, 57 people have been murdered in Tampa this year, compared with 47 people through Oct. 22 of last year. Ten people were the victims of homicides in August 1990 alone.

"Unfortunately we're now seeing that we're ahead of the number of homicides we had last year (at this time), which just shows you that statistics can sometimes be misleading unless you take a very big picture," Tampa policespokesman Steve Cole said. "And the picture hasn't been fully developed yet."

The FBI report showed drops in other types of crime. Robberies were down about 25 percent in both Tampa and Clearwater. In St. Petersburg the rate declined by 2.25 percent in the first half of the year.

Shelor, the Clearwater police spokesman, said violent crime appears to be on the decrease in his city's drug areas since several major drug suppliers were arrested.

"It's been comparatively quiet since these people have been in prison," Shelor said.

The number of aggravated assaults increased in St. Petersburg by 15.75 percent, but dropped in Clearwater and Tampa.

Cole said police departments really won't know whether the crime situation has improved until the end of the year.

"We're encouraged overall that crime is down, but you also have to realize that we have a few more months to go," he said. "Let's keep our fingers crossed that by the end of the year that will bear out."

_ Times staff writer Kathleen Ovack contributed to this report.