Criminals in Lee County were less violent in 2011, opting instead to steal more.
Data released Monday by the Lee County Sheriff's Office shows a 11 percent drop in violent crimes — murder, forced sex crimes, robbery and aggravated assault — in the area it patrols, with a 8 percent increase in the number of burglaries and thefts.
The rate of violent crimes, burglaries and thefts — deemed Part I crimes — fell by 0.6 percent.
Sheriff Mike Scott attributed the violent crime figures to relationships with citizens and a crackdown on drug use.
"I'm absolutely convinced that an aggressive, nonstop attack on drugs suppresses much of the violent crime," Scott said. "I also attribute the numbers and downward trend to an intense focus on the community having the confidence to call us."
Despite a 21 percent drop in violent crime in the office's Delta District, which covers Bonita Springs, Estero and areas of Fort Myers south of Briarcliff Road, the area saw an 18 percent rise in Part I crimes — the largest among the office's six districts. It was the result of a 55 percent jump in burglaries — from 265 to 412 — and a 20 percent rise in larcenies — from 1,028 to 1,231.
County-wide, burglaries of residences and thefts over $200 both rose about 14 percent, the largest spikes of any Part I crime.
"You're combining having 25,000 new people in the county to be responsible for with a very, very depressed economy," Scott said. "You could also throw into the equation a lower budget."
The data, known as Uniform Crime Reports, only accounts for crimes reported to sheriff's deputies. As a result, it doesn't provide an exact picture of crime, though criminal justice experts generally agree it's the best measuring tool available.
Fort Myers police also released their data Monday, showing that murders in the city nearly tripled, up from seven in 2010 to 20 in 2011. The number of Part I crimes rose 11.5 percent in Fort Myers.
The Collier County Sheriff's Office isn't expected to have its crime data available this month.