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Sarasota crime report 2023: Steep drop in violence and zero homicides

Written by on Sunday, February 18, 2024

But drug-related charges more than doubled.

By Johannes Werner

Original Air Date: Feb. 16, 2024

Host: Rex Troche has been chief of the City of Sarasota police since April 2022, and 2023 was his first full calendar year in office. On Tuesday, he will present to his bosses on the city commission an upbeat annual report for that year. Most remarkably: There’s been a big dip in violent crime. There were no homicides – repeat: zero murders – in the city, for the first time since 1967. But the number of arrests and charges, particularly drug-related ones, were up considerably. Our news team had a closer look at what this means.

Troche

Johannes Werner: There were no murders in the City of Sarasota throughout last year, for the first time since 1967. That compares to seven homicides the year before. That’s remarkable, and it’s a reflection of a nationwide record decline in homicides.

Vicki Lachman is the chair of Sarasota’s Independent Police Review Board. She says the city has been lucky.

Vicki Lachman: Well, I think we’re really lucky here in Sarasota, because if you look at Chicago or Philadelphia, or even Jacksonville, I mean, there are stats we don’t have here. I think that a lot of the reason is that the police force is reaching out more and more into the communities and connecting with members of the community, so they can prevent these kinds of things, if possible, by making connections in the community.

JW: At the same time, City of Sarasota police seem to have been energized: The number of arrests and charges was up considerably in 2023, particularly drug-related ones.

While most property-related crime and domestic violence cases were down or stagnant, reported rape cases in the city rose slightly, from 25 to 28. But the biggest red flag in the City of Sarasota’s 2023 crime statistics was narcotics-related: The number of drug charges more than doubled, from 449 two years ago to 1,048 last year. Total arrests were up 15 percent, and arrests on felony charges were up even more.

So what’s with this rising number of arrests? Is it a sign of stepped-up enforcement? Or is the rise of reported cases a matter of rising drug consumption? Here’s how Lachman responded.

VL: I know that, just like every other city in the country, we have a rising drug problem. And fentanyl and meth are the ones that get talked about the most in the police department. And then, thank God for Narcan to help the police officers and actually the first responders deal with this rising drug problem all over the country. The issue, as they talk about it, is that they’re intervening earlier. I think this is because of their connections in the community, and just random stops. I get reports every every quarter that show the detectives are out alive and well, out into the communities.

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

JW: Will this rising number of arrests grow our prison population? It is growing, Lachman says. Pre-arrest diversion programs and marijuana civil citation numbers barely make a dent in the number of Sarasotans ending up behind bars. However, Lachman believes the system is now cycling mental health and addiction-challenged prisoners faster and more appropriately through the system.

VL: Yes, it is because our jail most of the time has more prisoners in it than it should. And so there’s overcrowding of the jails across the country, and in Sarasota as well. It occurs, and they then do the best they can to get them in and out into rehab programs, into probation, to get them out of those prisons so that they can deal with the more hardened criminals. But, as you know, it’s really a year or less they serve in the jail. And then they’re moved on to a prison system if that be the case, but there is rehab going on even inside the prisons.

Final word: Watch your speed: City cops wrote more than 15,000 tickets last year. The number of traffic citations in the city last year was up more than 5 percent.

Reporting for WSLR News, this has been Johannes Werner.

 

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