TAMPA, Fla. (FOX 13) - Florida's crime rate fell in 2018, for the 48th year in a row, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's 2018 Uniform Crime Report.
FDLE says overall crime fell 9%, with violent crime dropping 4.2%. Still, the murder rate increased by 4.7%, driven in part by the school shooting in Parkland, where a former student killed 17 students and teachers on Valentine's Day 2018.
The number of rapes also saw an increase over 2017, but the other five index crimes, which include robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft, were all lower. In raw numbers, there were 45,154 fewer reported offenses than in the previous year, according to the FDLE report.
Gov. Ron DeSantis called the report "great news for all Floridians." Attorney General Ashley Moody said the drop is welcome news, but comes at a cost, noting the deaths of 11 law enforcement officers in the line of duty in 2018.
"We will never forget their sacrifices, nor the security we feel as a result of their courageous service," said Moody.
In the Bay Area, Pinellas County saw the sharpest decline in crime, with the county's overall crime rate falling 15%. There were slight year-to-year increases in the number of rapes and murders in Pinellas County, but hundreds fewer robberies and aggravated assaults.
There were 1,142 fewer burglaries reported in Pinellas County in 2018.
In Hillsborough County, the overall crime rate fell 6.6%. Hillsborough reported 62 murders in 2018, versus 63 in 2017. There were 15 fewer rapes, 148 fewer robberies, and 172 fewer aggravated assaults. The number of burglaries fell by 1,854.
Crime rates were also lower in Polk County (down 5.5%), Highlands County (down 9.6%), Pasco County (down 4.7%), and Hernando County (down 11.4%). Citrus County saw very little change in its crime rate. Hardee County's crime rate increased 9.8%, driven by an increase in motor vehicle thefts and larceny cases. There was one murder in Hardee County in 2018, and none in 2017.
Sarasota and Manatee counties, which have seen explosive population growth and new development, both had increases in overall crime.
Sarasota recorded 10 murders in 2018, up 2 from the year before, but fewer rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults and burglaries. Its overall crime rate increased less than 1%, while Manatee County, just to the north, recorded a 4.7% increase in crime, due to a big jump in larceny cases. Manatee County had five fewer murders in 2018 (19 cases) than in 2017 (24 cases).
The Florida Sheriff's Association says the lower crime is no accident. Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter, president of the sheriff's association, says the crime rate is lower because criminals are locked up "serving the time they deserve and not creating more victims by receiving a ‘get out of jail free card.'"
The sheriff's association was highly critical of proposals during the last legislative session that would have allowed for early releases of inmates convicted of what lawmakers called low-level crimes. Critics said the term "low-level" was just vague enough to be confusing, but included crimes ranging from drug offenses, to firearms charges. The early release provision was stripped from the bill.
Florida's prison population stands at roughly 95,000 inmates. It's the third largest state prison system in the country. According to Project 180, Florida's incarceration rate of 513 inmates per 100,000 residents is substantially higher than the national average of 471.
Project 180 helps inmates re-enter society by offering educational, financial, and job training programs.
FDLE'S Uniform Crime Report for 2018, which includes county-by-county crime rates, and arrest totals by age and gender can be found online at http://www.fdle.state.fl.us/FSAC/UCR-Reports.aspx.