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Yes, 'crime has never been this low' in Polk County, despite deadly shooting

Sheriff Grady Judd says with crime at a low in the county, "you've never been as safe as you are right now." But state data shows murders have fluctuated.

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. — The shooting deaths of four people, including a 3-month-old baby, comes as Polk County is experiencing the lowest number of crimes in years, Sheriff Grady Judd claimed during a news conference Sunday.

"Crime has never been this low, you've never been as safe as you are right now," Judd said. "But when you get a nut job like this, statistical data makes no difference."

Judd said 33-year-old Bryan Riley had also shot an 11-year-old girl multiple times. She was taken to the hospital where she remains in critical but stable condition, according to detectives.

THE QUESTION

Has crime "never been this low" in Polk County?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

Yes, "crime has never been this low" in Polk County. Over the past 20 years, the total number of crimes has trended downward despite an increasing population, according to state data, but murders have fluctuated.

WHAT WE FOUND

The sheriff described the crime scene Sunday as one of the top three most horrific he'd seen during his career, stating that he would never be able to "unsee" what had happened.

“Who would ever think – in a community with a 49-year crime low – that you would have a mass shooter at 4:30 on a Sunday morning in a quiet, safe neighborhood?” said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd as he told reporters a "survivalist" ex-Marine had shot and killed four people, including an infant. 

While available state data on crime doesn't go back 49 years, 10 Tampa Bay examined crime data for the area over the past 20 years.

Over the past decade, Polk County's crime rate — the number of crimes occurring each year — has decreased even as the county's population has increased, according to state data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The trend largely has been the same over the past 20 years, with exceptions in the mid-late 2000s.

A similar trend is seen when adjusted for the number of crimes per 100,000 people.

Crimes include murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft.

Murders in the county have fluctuated and, since 2000, have trended slightly higher. The year 2020 had the highest recorded murders since 2010, FDLE data shows, with the lowest in 2017. 

A total of 40 murders were recorded across the county last year. This includes the murders of three friends during a fishing trip in July 2020 in Frostproof. The only year with more murders is 2008 when 44 were recorded.

In 10 years, the county's population has increased from 584,329 people in 2010 to 715,090 people in 2020, state data shows. Polk County's population in 2000 was 483,924 people.

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