Clay County CRIME SHEET; with Violent Acts Pushing Up the Crime Rates in Clay County, Sheriff Rick Beseler Hopes for Help in the Form of Federal Funding

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Byline: MARY MARAGHY

Violent crime is on the rise but some property crimes are going down in Clay County, according to recent statistics.

Murder and assaults have increased recently, pushing Clay County's overall crime rate up 7 percent, based on statistics from the first half of 2006 and 2007.

Violent crimes are the hardest to prevent, said Sheriff Rick Beseler, because most stem from alcohol and drug abuse, infidelity and other long-standing sociological problems that erupt from behind closed doors among not strangers, but people who know each other - spouses, parents, children, siblings, relatives, roommates and others.

Said Sharon Gogerty, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement: "Violent crimes are the most difficult to predict and prevent. Many involve use of a firearm and are done in the heat of passion when people aren't thinking rationally about the consequences of their actions.

Gogerty cites statistics of an increase of murders by 28 percent in Florida and robbery by 13.4 percent from 2005 to 2006. She said crime statistics can be very tricky.

"It's hard to attribute crime to any single factor or any specific set of factors," she said.

Beseler said he expects violent crime will continue to rise in Clay as prevention programs get slashed as a result of a sagging economy and societal views.

"Most services are reactive. Our society has not funded social services to be proactive as well as reactive," said Sharon Youngerman, director of Quigley House, Clay County's domestic violence shelter.

Youngerman said her agency's government funding streams have remained flat though the population served and costs are rising. She said her agency eliminated an outreach counselor position and a violence prevention program, due to tight finances, and because it is hard to track the success of prevention efforts. "True prevention has not been funded in years."

Meanwhile, Beseler would like the funding to have a few more good deputies. Since Sept. 11, the military has sucked up funding and potential candidates for law enforcement, Beseler said. Optimum staffing levels for Clay County is 1.8 officers per 1,000 residents, he said. Currently, Clay County is 1.4 per 1,000. But Beseler said he is optimistic that federal government efforts are under way to replace funding for local departments and that the agency's existing deputies can keep the public safe in the meantime.

Beseler states that he's most proud of his office's ability to solve crime. The case clearance rate is almost double the state average.

"Clay County is a very, very safe community," he said, adding that residents should feel safe to walk and play in their neighborhoods.

Burglaries are down 11 percent, robberies dropped by 2.6 percent and auto thefts are down 1.5 percent in the first six months of 2007. Beseler said he expects a continued downward slope in these numbers thanks to the following initiatives:

- Night blitzes in high crime areas pinpointed by a new computerized crime analysis center. …