ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — From Pinellas to Polk and Sarasota to Citrus — across nearly every part of the Bay area crime is down in almost all categories but one — violent crime.
“Our crime rate is down at historic lows, but our murder rate is through the roof this year,” said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.
Judd remembers back to 2014 when the Polk County Sheriff’s Office worked just four murders in the entire year.
Now in 2021, the county is already up to 34 homicides with 23 of those in just the last 4 months.
“I certainly wish people would quit killing people,” Sheriff Judd said.
St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway shares the same concern.
"Here in St. Pete, all of our crimes are down except in the homicide category," Holloway said. "We’re trying to figure that out."
Both Holloway and Judd say what makes this spike unique is that the killings – for the most – part aren’t related to gang violence or even drugs. He says they are most often violent disagreements, many at home.
“People are mad at each other, they don’t like each other and want to see each other dead,” Judd said of the increased violence.
“The majority of them are arguments,” Holloway said.
St. Petersburg says it is up to 29 murders for 2021, nearly double what the city saw last year.
So what’s going on?
We asked Dr. Bryanna Fox, a former Special Agent with the FBI and a criminologist at the University of South Florida.
“The data has been remarkable showing the number of gun purchases that have occurred since the pandemic began,” said Dr. Fox. “Every few months we surpass the record that we set the month earlier. There are more guns in circulation in the United States now than at any point in US history and it’s by far.”
Analysts from across the country are studying the alarming trend in murders which quickly began creeping up at the beginning of the pandemic.
“Local data does play out that violent crime and handgun violence has increased not only a little but substantially,” said Fox.
In fact, here in the Bay area, she says their statistics show gun violence is up 30 percent over previous years. That data correlates with record gun sales across Florida, likely triggered by fear and anger surrounding the protests and looting of 2020 followed by political division and violence at the US Capitol.
“This is something that’s happening in unison. Gun sales are going up. Homicides are going up. And Gun crimes are going up,” said Fox. “We’re seeing it with road rage and incidents happening on planes. It all seems to support this theory that Americans are under more strain and that’s coming out with this increased level of violence.”
That means the crimes are often spur-of-the-moment decisions and tough for police to prevent. She says keeping guns under lock and key is important.
“While people bought them out of protection and are good people, that same gun that is used for protection that’s left in someone’s car could easily be stolen and used for a bad reason just moments later.”
She says how we treat each other is also key in preventing needless violence.
“Remembering the golden rule to treat other people the way we want to be treated,” said Fox. “It’s absolutely the way that we can address this. Be kinder to each other and we’ll get out of this and get back to the way used to be.”
The city of Tampa publishes a map showing where each crime within the city occurs. According to the map, we’ve seen 40 murders/manslaughters this year.
Many are concentrated along an area north to south from Busch Blvd all the way down to the Selmon Expressway and between I-275 and North 40th Street.
Law enforcement agencies across the country report all of their crime statistics to the FBI each year.
Those numbers are compiled and then released the next Fall.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement also tracks crime statistics and those are available county by county for all categories including homicide.
Their latest numbers only run through 2020, but show 1,285 Florida murders last year which is the highest spike since 1991, a near 15 percent jump.