Crime in Collier County rises slightly in first half of 2011

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— Fifteen straight years of declining crime rates in Collier County could come to an end if trends from the first half of 2011 keep up.

The county saw a small jump in crime through the first six months of the year, rising about 6 percent according to data released Tuesday by the Collier County Sheriff’s Office.

The number of Part I crimes — murders, sexual assaults, aggravated assaults, robberies, burglaries, larcenies and motor vehicle thefts — increased from 2,901 in the first six months of 2010 to 3,072 in 2011. Burglaries, robberies and sexual assaults saw the greatest percentage increases, while murders and larcenies held steady. The number of motor vehicle thefts and aggravated assaults both dropped.

Sheriff Kevin Rambosk attributed the figures Tuesday to the down economy, increases in prescription drug abuse and more crimes reported late to the Sheriff’s Office. Data shows 146 crimes that occurred before 2011 were reported this year, compared to 103 in 2010.

Rambosk said the rise in robberies, from 94 to 107, and burglaries, from 507 to 647, has Sheriff’s Office staff shifting their areas of focus. Deputies are going door-to-door throughout the county, talking to retailers about preventing robberies and increasing security. And deputies are expected to be in schools soon to talk about “car hopping,” the game of pulling car door handles, then competing to take the most valuable items from unlocked cars.

“We don’t know what, if anything, more we’re going to encounter over the year, but we can tell you and we talk about our residents all the time — we have control of the crime rate in Collier County and we’re going to ask everyone to participate and hold the line,” Rambosk said.

A recent spate of retail robberies, including two armed hold-ups last week and five bank robberies in the past two months, has deputies connecting more with local business owners. One of the five suspected bank robbers has been arrested, and neither suspect in the armed holdups is in custody, though Rambosk said detectives continue to get tips.

All banks in the county has been contacted about safety procedures by deputies, and jewelry stories have been warned about the possibility of robberies as gold prices rise.

“From what I’ve seen in light of several of the robberies around Southwest Florida, they’re really trying to connect with the business communities more to make sure these employees and shoppers are safe,” said Marci Seamples, vice president of communications for the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce.

While retail robberies have drawn attention, Rambosk said robberies of individuals remain more prevalent.

“Unfortunately, in Collier County the majority of our robberies are street-level robberies and they are occurring in the Immokalee neighborhoods,” Rambosk said.

Sexual assaults also saw a spike, rising from 44 to 62, though Rambosk attributed 10 of those from 2011 to Robert Alter, the former Immokalee school volunteer who was reported in February for molesting children.

Several crime statistics held steady or declined for the first six months. Murders remained at four, the same number as 2010, and larcenies rose slightly from 1,793 to 1,809. Motor vehicle thefts dropped from 91 to 88, and aggravated assaults fell from 368 to 355.

Law enforcement agencies submit crime data, called Uniform Crime Reports, to the FBI each year, and Collier County reported crime rate drops for each of the past 15 years. The reliability of UCR data has long been debated, as the data doesn’t include unreported crimes and only counts the most serious crime if more than one occurred.

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