Editor’s Note: This continues our series on health and socioeconomic issues affecting Santa Rosa County.
MILTON — Santa Rosa County ranks second out of 67 Florida counties for social and economic factors, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute’s latest County Health Rankings.
The rate of violent crime here has been trending downward in recent years; the same has occurred with rates in Florida and the U.S. as a whole.
Based on the number of reported violent crime offenses per 100,000 residents, 2016 data shows Santa Rosa County at a rate of 144. This is a decrease from 2010, when the rate was 158, and 2004, when the rate was 261.
Although the numbers for 2017 will not be released until June, local law enforcement says there has been a large spike in violent crime in Santa Rosa County — the largest they have seen.
HOW IT’S MEASURED
There are two frequently cited measures of the country’s crime rate.
The first is an annual FBI document of serious crimes reported to police in approximately 18,000 jurisdictions around the country.
The second is an annual survey of more than 90,000 households conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which asks Americans ages 12 and older whether they were the victims of crime in the past six months.
Both sets of data show a significant decrease, according to the Pew Research Center.
The reported U.S. violent crime rate includes murder, rape and sexual assault, robbery and assault.
Crime rates are changed by averaging neighborhood higher or lower local rates over a larger population, which includes the entire city.
Having small areas of dense crime may lower a city's average crime rate, according to the United States Bureau of Justice.
But why is the crime rate dropping across the country?
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law attributes the decline to the rate of incarceration.
“With almost one in 100 American adults locked away behind bars, our incarceration rate is the world’s highest — nine to 10 times that of many European countries,” Joseph E. Stiglitz, a 2001 recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, said in Brennan’s book, “What Caused the Crime Decline?”
REASONS FOR LOCAL INCREASE
In Santa Rosa County, the rate was steadily declining until the start of 2017, when several murders took place.
The deaths of two women at a Milton motel by William Boyette in January; the killing of a Milton woman with a hatchet by her husband in February; a triple-shooting death in Milton in February; the murder-suicide in Jay in April; and a fatal shooting in Munson in April caused the murder rate in Santa Rosa County to go up 600 percent.
“We had a 32 percent increase in rape and a 27 percent decrease in robberies,” Rich Aloy, public information officer with the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office, said. “So far this year in 2017 we’ve had a 38 percent increase year-to-date in violent crime in Santa Rosa County — an unprecedented number; that is extremely high.”
According to Aloy, the sheriff’s office has never seen numbers like this before. The yearly rates come out in June to give law enforcement six months to make sure the cases are cleared and there is a more accurate depiction of each case.
“The interesting thing is that 20 percent of our population that we’ve arrested in Santa Rosa County is from Escambia County,” Aloy said. “That’s a very high figure … We can’t determine why, but some crime is spilling over from other areas.”
The sheriff’s office doesn’t exactly know why there has been such a drastic increase in these incidents, but some of them can be attributed to domestic disputes, which can’t be controlled by law enforcement, according to Aloy.