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Seminole crime spikes, but is that alarming?

Although the crime rate here is lower than some other Pinellas cities', Seminole did see a significant increase in residential burglaries during the first six months of this year measured against the same period last year.

But law enforcement officials say there is no need to rush out and buy a home security system.

"Seminole is a very safe place to live," said Lt. Steve Rasor, a liaison for cities such as Seminole that contract for police services with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. "But we always want (residents) to be aware of what's going on and take preventive measures."

Becoming involved in a neighborhood crime watch program is a good start, Rasor said. "People should know who their neighbors are and call us if something looks out of place."

There have been nearly 2{ times more home burglaries this year _ 31 _ than during the first half of last year, when there were 13.

"That is a big jump," said M. Dwayne Smith, chairman of the criminology department at the University of South Florida in Tampa. "There is no question about it."

But it doesn't necessarily mean there is trouble brewing in Seminole, he said. Rather, crime surges tend to come in waves, Smith said.

"It's extraordinarily difficult to attribute to any real cause with such a short period of time," he said. "This may level out by the end of the year."

Yet if there has been a steady climb over the past five years, then a trend could be developing, Smith said. That's not the case, according to Rasor.

"I think 31 might be closer to normal, but we'd rather it be 13 than 31," Rasor said, adding that there were 22 residential burglaries in the first six months of 1999.

Often, residential burglaries peak because a group of teenagers target a certain area. Eventually they either get caught by the police or move on to another city.

The increase in home burglaries is partly because of the recent growth of Seminole, according to Rasor, who is also the supervisor of community policing units for south Pinellas. The city has nearly doubled in size and population since June 2000. Seminole's approximately 16,000 residents live within a 4-square-mile city.

The number of spouse abuse crimes in the city more than doubled, the report also shows. There were 28 spouse battery crimes through June of this year, compared to 13 for the same period last year.

"You can only speculate what the causes are," Rasor said.

Yet the larger number of spouse abuse cases this year doesn't necessarily mean there were more incidents than last year, Smith said. It could simply mean that police were involved in more disputes, he said.

"In any given year, the same number could be occurring," Smith said.

Whatever the reasons, the new numbers for home burglaries and spouse abuse cases helped fuel a 28 percent increase in overall crime so far this year. Although that figure may seem alarming, the numbers for most other crimes in Seminole either stayed the same or decreased through June compared with the same period last year.

Like last year, there have been no murders this year. The number of reported assaults _ seven _ stayed the same.

The number of robberies dropped from three to one. Battery and aggravated battery each dropped about 30 percent. But aggravated assault increased, from five cases to eight.

By the numbers

Jan-June Jan-June

2001 2002

Property crimes

Residential burglaries 13 31

Petty thefts 106 140

Auto thefts 15 12

Violent and sex crimes

Lewd/lascivious 3 4

Battery 45 32

Spouse battery 13 28

Source: Pinellas County Sheriff's Office