Mayor Sam Henderson asked for the information following, in his words, “a lot on Facebook and on the bloggosphere regarding recent criminal activity, or [the] perception of [an] increase in crime.”
The statistics, which came from the Pinellas County Crime Viewer, showed an overall decrease in robberies and burglaries over the past three years, but an increase in theft.
“Those thefts are primarily two things,” said Chief Vincent, citing further data from Pinellas County Crime Viewer. “Retail thefts from discount stores … and stolen bikes.”
Crime has been a hot topic in Gulfport over the past month-and-a- half in part because of both a recent armed robbery on 49th St. S. and a December 14 article in the Tampa Bay Times about Al Santos, a self- appointed night-crawling criminal watchdog who rides around on a 400cc scooter most nights, strapped with a .45 on one hip and a .38 on the other.
“Short of a murder,” said Chief Vincent, “an armed robbery is our most serious offense.”
The chief went on to state that, “Violent crime is way down,” and backed up his proclamation by pointing out the low number of violent crimes – 35 – seen in Gulfport in 2014.
“That’s at least ten incidents lower than it’s been in ten years,” said Chief Vincent. He also commented on the efficiency with which the Gulfport Police Department is solving crimes, saying they have the “highest clearance rate” this year.
“We’ve cleared 27 percent of all crimes,” he said.
That figure is up three percent from the 24 percent low Chief Vincent says the Gulfport Police previously experienced.
At the conclusion of his presentation, Chief Vincent responded to a question about neighborhood watch programs in Gulfport.
“Anyone is welcome to form a group,” he said and emphasized the support that any neighborhood watch program would receive from the Gulfport Police Department, should they reach out to them – including help with finding a place to meet and organize, as well as access to local crime data.
However, the chief was clear about the department’s arms-length stance when it comes to neighborhood watch programs: Gulfport police will not train volunteers so as not to create a police responsibility for the actions of any in the respective watch groups.
Chief Vincent concluded his presentation with a brief discussion between himself and the council about ways to reduce theft in Gulfport. Everyone seemed to agree that doing things like locking car doors, locking up bikes and putting away other valuables would go a long way to deterring theft.