MURDER RATE; Sobering Facts

Article excerpt

Just how out of whack is Duval County's murder problem compared to other Florida counties?

It would have taken 40 fewer murders - dropping from 125 to 85 for 2007 - to fall under the murder rate of second-place finisher Orange County, according to per capita calculations using state statistics.

To reach the per capita murder rates of some larger counties such as Broward, Hillsborough and Pinellas, Duval would have to reduce its murders by half.

That means Duval totals ranging from 51 to 54.

The fewest murders recorded since 1971 in Duval - excluding Baldwin and the Beaches - is 73 in 1979.

But this New Year opens with some brighter murder news, if there is such a thing.

Jacksonville murders decreased from 123 to 112, based on unofficial statistics. Official county murder numbers that drive murder rates for Florida won't be available for months from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

CONCLUDE WITH CAUTION

The preliminary total is a solid indicator because almost all Duval murders happen in Jacksonville. In 2007, for instance, only two of 125 happened elsewhere, in Jacksonville Beach.

It offers little consolation for the grieving families and friends of slain loved ones, but a Duval drop would be a welcome break from two years of sharp climbs. Unfortunately, the reductions aren't likely to derail Duval from reigning as the state's murder capital for the 10th straight year.

But for a community focused on reversing its problems like never before, that number signifies hope and a potential change in direction.

It's wise to proceed cautiously in analyzing numbers and drawing conclusions from just one year.

Take 2005. Murders dropped by nine to 96 that year. Then came two years of jumps, reaching the 125 murders of 2007.

But the latest fall does come with some different trappings - unprecedented action and attention to the problem over the last two years.

Efforts include two separate public studies, an acknowledgment of people throughout the community of the problem and new steps taken to make inroads for solutions.

A RAY OF LIGHT

And the same numbers that make Duval's murder problems seem out of reach also offer some degree of optimism: We've been much lower before and must strive to reach and surpass those years.

Although still ranking first or second in the state, Duval averaged 81 murders a year from 1995 through 2001. …