Gov. Rick Scott is touting a 47-year low in the state’s crime rate after the Florida Department of Law Enforcement released its annual statistics. Scott said he is ‘disappointed’ in the legislature over cuts to the Department of Corrections.
The Governor’s mansion sits in Leon County, which has topped the state in per capita crime since 2015. Yet, this year, most major crime metrics in the county are falling. Despite its efforts, Leon hasn’t shifted in the rankings partially due to a high bar being set around the state.
“That’s a moving target each year that the state improves, because they are at a better starting point than we are. We are at what you call a deficit,” Leon Sheriff Walt McNeil said.
McNeil is measuring his agency’s progress against what amounted to a 4.5 percent drop in total crime across the state, and a six percent decrease in crime per capita.
But it was in Northeast Florida where Gov. Scott stood beside Jacksonville’s mayor and sheriff as he announced the statistics.
“I want to thank Sheriff Williams and Mayor Curry for the opportunity to be here and announce that in our state, we’re now at a 47-year-low in our crime rate,” Scott said.
The Uniform Crime Report statistics, compiled by the FBI, track crimes under the categories of murder, aggravated assault, rape, robbery, Larceny, burglary and motor vehicle theft. Of those categories statewide, only recorded rapes saw an increase of about 4 percent to a total of 7,934.
The report even records weapons used in different criminal categories. The use of guns is down nearly 7 percent in murders and 11 percent in robberies, but were used more often in aggravated assault and rapes.
McNeil says the yearly numbers can be a “barometer” for how respective agencies are doing. So, what’s working and what’s not?
In Duval County, where Scott touted crime stats, total crime was stagnant year-over year, and saw a miniscule drop per capita. That’s despite adding a significant number of police over the past couple of years, according to Jacksonville mayor Lenny Curry.
“The reason we, working with the Sheriff, have added 180 police officers over the last three budgets, two years in Jacksonville, and brought back community service officers, and invested in technology to get the bad guys off the street, is because public safety is our top priority,” Curry said.
Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams acknowledged Duval, which ranks third in the state in crime rate, isn’t keeping up with falling rates around Florida.
“The state number show us where we should be,” Williams said. “That’s our goal, to be moving in the direction and trending, again while we have some momentum here. Our numbers don’t reflect the state numbers.”
While Duval County’s beefing up of law enforcement hasn’t yielded a significant impact, Leon recently debuted an expanded partnership between state agencies and a number of sheriff’s departments in the region that officials say is producing results. Second Judicial Circuit State Attorney Jack Campbell praised the effectiveness of agencies banding together.
“Law enforcement is going to have a unified effort, so that wherever the criminals want to run, wherever they want to hide, we are going to beat the bushes and we are going to put them in prison,” Campbell said. “We are going to make this community a safe place so that these statistics will continue to come down.”
Leon Sheriff’s Office based the new effort on the success of its “All In” program. Debuted in 2017, it bolstered its partnership with Florida Highway Patrol, resulting in the agencies seizing more than 900,000 dollars in contraband and assets from criminals during a four-month period.
But it isn’t just policing practices that factor into crime as a whole. Recidivism is something state leaders, including Gov. Scott, keep an eye on. While the recidivism rate is currently trending down according to Scott, he says he is concerned funding shortfalls from this past session could hurt that.
Asked about the Department of Corrections’ nearly $30 million cut in funding that has affected mental health services, Scott seemed to place blame squarely on legislators.
“I’ve asked for, over the last eight budgets, I think it’s almost $400 million dollars more than what the Legislature has funded. The process is, I get to propose a budget and then the Legislature decides what they’re going to put into it,” Scott said. “The Department of Corrections is working hard, the recidivism rate is down, as you know our crime rate is down. But, I’m disappointed the legislature didn’t fund all of it.”
Scott said he believes DOC programs like those geared toward mental health are effective.
“The reason why I asked for the money is, if you go through and look at those programs, they worked. We’ve make significant investments in re-entry programs in the state, and it’s worked,” Scott said.
Attorney General Pam Bondi, in a statement regarding the lowered statistics, gave a reminder that five law enforcement officers have died in the line of duty so far this year. In April, a ceremony was held at the Capital to remember the 10 officers who died in 2017, and four more whose deaths in the past were recently discovered.