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Police statistics show upswing in criminal activity

By Staff | Feb 4, 2009

Incidences of theft and assault were on the rise in Sanibel in 2008, according to a year-end statistical report and analysis filed Jan. 21 by Police Chief Bill Tomlinson.

“Although the City of Sanibel remains a very safe community with a low crime rate, there are noticeable trends emerging from the data,” he said.

There were 81 incidences of theft reported to Sanibel Police in 2008, which reflects an increase of more than 40 percent since 2005. Most alarmingly, incidences of assault in 2008 were up almost 300 percent over 2003, when only 7 such crimes were reported on the island. Half of the 20 assaults reported in 2008 were domestic assaults, said the report.

“Historically, thefts increase during economic hard times,” explained Tomlinson, “and domestic assaults increase due to financial circumstances.”

The total number of major, federally-reportable Uniform Crime Report (UCR) crimes is down more than 41 percent from 2004, although Tomlinson attributes that drop to an exorbitant number of crimes reported in 2004 in the aftermath of Hurricane Charley, when many homeowners vacated the island and transient laborers arrived seeking work.

UCR crimes reported in 2008 increased 11 percent over those reported to police in 2007. Crimes classified as UCR include burglary, theft, assault, vehicle theft, robbery, rape and murder.

The total number of crimes reported in Sanibel for 2008 increased significantly over the prior year, with police investigating 389 incidences of everything from harassment to embezzlement to criminal traffic violations. The 48 percent increase over 2007 was generally seen in the areas of criminal mischief, trespass and fraud.

As crime increased, so did the number of people arrested – approximately 14 percent more than were arrested in 2007. Twenty-one percent of those arrested were Sanibel residents – a figure that Tomlinson said remains steady from years past. About 59 percent of those arrested were Lee County residents, 11 percent were residents of Florida, and only 9 percent were from other states. One foreign visitor was arrested as well.

The good news in the report is that there were far fewer arrests for drunk driving and drug charges in 2008 than there had been in years past, coupled with a significant decrease in underage drinking and drug complaints and violations. In fact, there were no juvenile arrests made by Sanibel Police in 2008.

“Staff believes these violations have decreased due to a diligent enforcement approach from 2005 to date,” said Tomlinson in his report. Burglaries were also down 20 percent.

Overall, Sanibel Police responded to 32,424 calls for service in 2008, an increase of 25 percent over 2007. Calls for service includes every criminal report, ordinance violation, arrest, call for service and proactive area check that was completed during the year by police department personnel.

In other business, City Manager Judie Zimomra reported to Council the introduction of a bill in this year’s state legislative session concerning free public access to beaches.

The bill has been introduced in both the House (H527) and the Senate (S488), and if passed, may impact the City’s of Sanibel’s approach to beach access, parking, and other regulations. The bill seeks to prohibit obstruction of beach access under certain conditions, and would prohibit the use of signs declaring public beach is private property. The bill also prohibits local governments from enacting ordinances that limit public access.

“This may impact the way we operate, and how we accommodate the public at our beaches,” said Zimomra. “It’s important to be on the defense, because this has the potential to impact life on Sanibel.

Zimomra also provided the Council with a report concerning the status of public complaints regarding the building of sand sculptures on Sanibel beaches, which was prepared in response to a public comment made at the last Council meeting. Zimomra said that existing code prohibits excavation, mining or hauling of sand or soil from the beach or dune.

In the past, individuals have been reprimanded under the existing code for

filling sand bags – and even selling Sanibel sand on eBay, said Zimomra, who recommended that the City utilize that existing code to prevent the construction of the large-scale sand sculptures that residents have been complaining about.

“When someone is engaging in activity so significant that it’s a danger or a hazard, our intent is to continue to follow the codes on the books,” she said.

Sanibel resident Herb Rubin argued against such restrictions, stating that sand sculpting was an environmentally friendly art.

“None of these sculptures are more than six feet in length,” argued Rubin. “They use surface sand to create these sculptures up toward boardwalk. They’re not in the traffic lanes of the beach. It’s environmentally sound in that it doesn’t last. It dissolves with rain.”

Rubin said that one particular sculptor has been coming to Sanibel for the past eight years, attracting several fans of his work who all reserve at the same time just to see the sand sculpting taking place, but because of the current upset, has decided against making hotel reservations for next year.

“The codes on this just aren’t clear,” added Rubin.

Resident Mark Hammond suggested that the visitors lost to Fort Myers Beach, where sand sculpting is embraced through the celebration of an annual festival, would perhaps be replaced by visitors seeking a different form of nature-based vacation, where Sanibel’s environment and unspoiled beaches can truly be appreciated.