Byline: BRIDGET MURPHY
Duval County leads Florida as the county you're most likely to be murdered in, according to recently published state crime statistics adjusted for population.
However, Jacksonville Sheriff's Office officials said Tuesday that residents shouldn't be alarmed since violent crime as a whole dropped, with the spike in murders largely related to drug gang activity they've targeted since January 2004.
Without taking Duval County's population into account, it still ranks second in Florida for the total number of murders (105), second to Miami-Dade County (218), according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
The number of murders in Jacksonville rose for the third year in a row last year. There were 92 murders in 2003, 90 in 2002, according to the FDLE.
And the annual number of murders in Jacksonville has increased 40 percent since 1998, going up every year except in 2000 and 2001. Sheriff's Office leaders pointed out, however, that excluding murders, violent crimes dropped in 2004 for the sixth straight year.
With a population of 840,474, this year's numbers in Duval County break down to one in every 8,004 people falling victim to murder. Miami-Dade County, with a population of 2,379,818, racked up a murder for every 10,916 people, an analysis shows.
Jacksonville Undersheriff Frank Mackesy said that since January 2004, police broke up five drug-dealing gangs, clearing two murders and putting people who police suspect are responsible for 17 more murders behind bars. A crimefighting initiative called Operation Showdown, which successfully reduced crime in Springfield and another neighborhoods, now is targeting an area in Northwest Jacksonville, as a way for police to continue combatting violent crimes.
"It wasn't [as if] you're going to go out and walk your dog tonight, [and] you're going to be murdered," Mackesy said of the murder increase.
The often compulsive or random nature of some murders also makes them offenses that police can't do a lot to prevent, he said.
"Domestic violence and drug violence, those are categories we can do something about," the undersheriff added.
Jacksonville police statistician Chuck Alsobrook, said Tuesday that Jacksonville as a city ranked 10th in the total number of violent crimes per capita in Florida, according to the FBI's most recent numbers. That includes murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.
He said it's also tricky to make comparisons with other cities because of Jacksonville's size. …