My honorable colleague Rick Outzen published an article on January 12, 2016, entitled, "Escambia County Violent Crimes Are Not Up."
That is a true statement. However, in the context of what Outzen was trying to prove, it is not entirely correct.
The context of the headline and the accompanying data Outzen provided, is the statement made by retired Drug Enforcement Agent special agent John Johnson, a Republican candidate for sheriff in Escambia County, Florida. Outzen reported, "Challenger John Johnson focused on crime rates, insisting Pensacola had higher violent crime rates per capita than Jacksonville, Tampa, St. Petersburg and Miami-Dade."
Outzen then claimed, "Escambia County has had a high per capita crime rate for decades.
However, the violent crimes have declined since David Morgan took office
in 2009, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement."
Outzen then presented data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement showing that the total number of violent crimes and the total number of property crimes had declined under Sheriff Morgan's watch. True.
But, those data are irrelevant. Johnson did not claim that the total number of violent crimes had risen. He said that Escambia County had a higher per capita rate of violent crime than Miami-Dade, Tampa, and St. Petersburg. On that score, Johnson is correct.
[The data below for violent crime rates and property crime rates have been selected from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. See their pages for definitions and the actual data which they cover from 1994 to 2014.]
Violent crime rates per 100,000 population have declined for Florida as a whole, as well as Escambia County, Duval County (Jacksonville), Hillsborough County (Tampa), Miami-Dade County, and Pinellas County (St. Petersburg).
Escambia County's crime rate per 100,000 population decline of 19 percent is slightly below the statewide decline of 23 percent. It lags behind the declines in Pinellas County (31 percent) and below Hillsborough County (43 percent), but is on par with Duvall County (14 percent) and Miami-Dade (19 percent).
The fact that the violent crime rate per 100,000 population declined in Florida as a whole during the same time period of Sheriff Morgan's tenure (2009-2014) suggests that economic, demographic or other unmeasured factors account for the decline, rather than the specific actions of any particular sheriff. Still, the larger declines in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties suggests, but does not prove, that the actions of these sheriffs may account for the larger than Florida-wide declines.
Outzen is correct that the total number of violent crimes has declined in Escambia County. But, Escambia County still has a higher violent crime rate as measured per 100,000 residents than much larger counties such as Duvall, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, and Pinellas. That said, it may very well be that because Escambia County is also one of the poorest counties in Florida, in terms of lower income (median and/or per capita) and higher poverty rates, it also has higher violent and property crime rates.
Johnson's statement that Escambia County has a higher crime rate per capita than much more urban counties is intended to suggest that much more needs to be done to combat violent crime in Escambia County, a view that retired Pensacola Police Department Lieutentant Doug Baldwin, Sr. agreed with in the candidates' debate.
The FDLE data suggest that the declines in violent crime rates per
100,000 population in Florida as a whole and in larger urban counties
(as well as Escambia County) are not necessarily due to the actions of
any specific sheriff. Even with the declines in the total number of
violent crimes and the crime rate in Escambia County, the fact remains
that Escambia County has a higher violent crime rate than counties that
are much more urban.
The question really for all the candidates is to address the policies and practices that the Escambia County Sheriff's Office needs to put in place to bring this higher crime rate down.
For Sheriff Morgan, it is "stay the course" and "keep the momentum" and change nothing. In Sheriff Morgan's view, the policies he has pursued since 2009 are sufficient.
For John Johnson, the solution appears to be the integrate the ECSO into a federal task force focusing on drugs and allow the open carrying fire arms.
For Doug Baldwin Sr., the answer is more community policing, building trust and cooperation between the communities and the ECSO, bringing the police on a daily basis closer to the various communities in Escambia County, significantly reducing the militarization of the ECSO in order to build community confidence and trust, decriminalizing marijuana so that the ECSO can put a higher priority on violent and property crimes, and hiring more sheriff deputies in tune with the culture of Escambia County.