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Sarasota 2023: Zero homicides, but drug arrests more than double. What gives?

Written by on Saturday, February 24, 2024

Stepped-up policing curbs violence, the police chief says. But a mother is worried.

By Bernadette Estrada-Brown

Original Air Date: Feb. 23, 2024

Drug-related arrests more than doubled last year. Photo: SPD

Host: This week, the Sarasota city police chief reported a Big Zero: Not a single homicide in 2023 in the entire city. This, while drug-related arrests more than doubled. Bernadette Estrada-Brown is trying to make sense of these apparent contradictions. In her quest, she ran across a mother and community organizer who is worried.

Bernadette Estrada-Brown: Over the past year, the City of Sarasota has witnessed a notable shift in crime statistics, with a steep drop in violent incidents. Police data reveals that there have been no reported homicides in the city. This big zero reflects the continued efforts of the Sarasota Police Department to enhance public safety through community involvement. 

WSLR News requested an interview about the specifics of these arrests with police Chief Rex Troche, but has not heard back. 

During a presentation of the 2023 numbers to the city commission on Tuesday, Chief Troche suggested that battling crime proactively involves engaging youth, rather than allowing them to turn to crime.


Rex Troche: We’re putting that opioid money towards the commitment to the youth, and if we are partnering with the youth and they are part of our gang, then they are not a part of someone else’s gang. They’ll be a part of our gang.

BEB: Troche attributed the decline in violence to higher staffing levels, the hiring of seasoned officers, and proactive community policing.

RT: I got with staff, and I said what’s the why? Because we believe in being specific, measurable, attainable, repeatable and timely in anything that we do. We had 18 new officers last year. We’re also thankful to our recruiters that are hiring law enforcement officers with prior experience. They come with a whole set of tools and they’re ready to go. It’s very helpful.

BEB: One of the most striking aspects of this trend is the simultaneous surge in drug-related arrests. Despite a staggering 158.3% increase in arrests related to drug offenses, the City of Sarasota has managed to reduce violence and death. 

Community member Deanie Bergbreiter believes the reduction of violence reflects a nationwide trend, as the world opened back up and the pandemic came to a close.

2023 enforcement statistics, presented by the Sarasota Police Department.

Deanie Bergbreiter: In 2023 we have the lowest homicide rate around the country. That’s the national trend. The question is, why did that happen? I mean, there is a correlation between, you know, drug sales and homicide.

BEB: Deanie Bergbreiter says communities are split over police tactics. Newtown, one of the communities most affected by policing, is split along generational lines, she says.

DB: There’s a struggle in Newtown between the older people and the younger people, about how policing should happen. You know, the older leaders, they’re always in favor of, ‘We want cameras on the corners, and we want more patrols’. And then on the other hand, people are like, ‘Oh, you know, we’re just being targeted, and we’re disproportionately being arrested. And that might be true with the rise in drug-affiliated arrests.

BEB: Do you think Sarasota has a drug problem? 

DB: Oh, I know there’s a huge drug problem in Sarasota.

BEB: Deanie Bergbreiter also explains how easy it is to find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

DB: You know, like my son walking home at night, the police harassing him and beating him off, throwing him in jail, refusing to plead guilty, and then they finally dropped the charges.

BEB: Reporting for WSLR News, this has been Bernadette Estrada-Brown.


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