LIVE OAK — While the crime rate rose slightly in Suwannee County last year, Sheriff Sam St. John said law enforcement will just continue to try and improve it going forward.
According to the Uniform Crime Reports released last week by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, there were 725 offenses in the county in 2018, a 2.4 percent increase from 2017, when there were 708 crimes.
“Do I wish they were better? Yes,” St. John said. “But all in all, I think we’re staying on top of things. It’s not way out of whack. We just have to keep working harder, keep doing what we’re doing, just work a little harder.”
Meanwhile, the crime rate dropped 11.5 percent in the City of Live Oak with the Live Oak Police Department handling 154 cases in 2018 compared to 174 the previous year.
“I’m proud of our UCRs, I’d love to see it go down even further,” Police Chief Buddy Williams said. “We’ll just keep our fingers crossed and keep doing the best we can and stay in touch with the community.
“I’d love to see us stay on the track that we’re on but that can change instantly with just 1 or 2 crime sprees. It can hurt you and it can hurt you fast.”
St. John agreed, adding there is no calculation for how much crime agencies deter through active patrolling and community policing.
“There’s no way to tell that, I wish there was,” he said. “But when something is reported to us, we go above and beyond to solve it.”
Williams, though, said the efforts the LOPD — and the SCSO — put in through community policing does pay off by helping to solve the crimes committed. LOPD’s clearance rate was 49.4 percent, a climb of nearly six percent, while the county as a whole had a 48.7 percent clearance rate, close to last year’s 49.3 rate.
“I think it helps a ton,” he said, adding technology has also been an asset in solving crimes. “I would use this example, you walk into a restaurant, are you going to talk to the people you don’t know? Probably not. But you’re going to greet everybody you do know.
"Through community policing efforts, you get to meet a whole array of people that you may not know in any other way. Trust is the biggest thing when you start calling in and telling on somebody.
“I think community policing gives the community faith that they can trust the men and women that work for them in public safety.”
Both Williams and St. John also were quick to credit their investigative teams for the strong clearance rates.
And while the crime rate rose in the county, the violent crime rate dropped 13.2 percent.
“Overall, 30 years in this business, we still live in a good little place,” Williams said. “Although we have our share of crime and we have every crime that anybody in the USA has, we had a pretty decent year this past year.”
The state’s crime rate fell 9 percent, marking the 48th consecutive year that Florida has seen a drop in its crime rate.
“Florida’s low crime rate is no accident,” Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter, the Florida Sheriffs Association president, said in a release. “It is the result of hard work by our deputies, with the support from Florida’s strong public safety laws.
“A major reason we enjoy a 48-year low in the crime rate today is because criminals are serving the time they deserve and not creating more crime victims by receiving a ‘get out of jail free’ card. Florida’s ‘Truth in Sentencing’ laws have once again contributed to keeping our residents and visitors of the Sunshine State safe.”