Reports: Cape, Lee County see decreases in crime
The city of Cape Coral and Lee County each witnessed reductions in reported crimes in 2008, according to reports from the Cape Coral Police Department and Lee County Sheriff’s Office, but both agencies are likely to face tough challenges in 2009, as a struggling economy will make crime a more enticing enterprise and decrease budgets.
A CCPD report showed a 9 percent reduction in homicides, sex offenses, aggravated assaults, thefts, burglaries and auto thefts in 2008 from the city’s 2007 numbers.
The report, however, contains unofficial statistics because it has yet to be audited by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The audit should take place in the second quarter of 2009.
Homicides were the only crime that saw an increase, with seven homicides reported in 2008 compared to five in 2007.
CCPD average response times also were down. It took an average of just under six minutes for officers to respond to a 911 call in 2008, three minutes fewer than the 2006 average of just under nine minutes.
Cape Coral Police Chief Rob Petrovich attributed the numbers to the increases in staff authorized in previous years by the city council.
“By adding more people it allows more officers to be proactive,” Petrovich said.
Those staff increases were reduced by 29 people for the current fiscal year, but Petrovich said those reductions were applied to management positions, so response times should not be affected.
“We took them from areas other than patrol,” he said.
A decreasing budget caused by shrinking home values and the subsequent drop in property taxes, though, is worrisome for Petrovich.
“We are funded through tax dollars, and those are being challenged,” he said.
The “do more with less” approach can be a slippery slope in tough economic times, Petrovich added.
“It starts to get to a point where you do less with less, and I’m concerned we may be approaching that area,” he said.
Lee County enjoyed a similar decrease in reported crimes, while seeing more arrests in 2008 than in 2007.
Total offenses were down almost 8 percent countywide in 2008, while arrests were up 3 percent.
Both Petrovich and Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott said they are proud of their officers for helping to produce the reductions in reported incidents, but Scott stressed the need for vigilance in the face of a difficult year ahead.
“We recognize there’s more work to do. We can’t sit back and say, ‘What a great year,'” Scott said.
In a county dealing with record foreclosures and flirting with a 10 percent unemployment rate, Scott realizes repeating those decreases in 2009 will be a difficult trick, as economic pressures can lead even the most upstanding citizen to crime.
“Sometimes in desperation people are faced with losing their home — desperate times call for desperate measures,” Scott said.