South County: Safest place to live in Hillsborough County
Despite neighborhood substation closings, South County crime rates are the lowest in the county.
BY PENNY FLETCHER
The latest statistics prove South County is a very safe place to live.
In fact, District IV of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office says its 450-square-mile area has the lowest crime rate in the county.
Letters and emails from local residents, including June Wallace, who heads the Tampa Bay Community Campaign Against Human Trafficking, concerning the closing of several neighborhood sheriffs’ substations — especially in Wimauma — prompted calls to sheriff’s office officials.
And yes, there have been substation closings. They were a result of shrinking budgets in a tight economy. Still, the Sheriff’s Office has good news.
Speaking extensively with sheriff’s office spokesman Larry McKinnon and Major Ron Hartley, head of District IV, the office that covers the area referred to as South County and also extends east through Keysville and Durant to the Polk County line; south to Manatee County; and north through south Brandon and FishHawk; led to some pretty amazing facts and figures.
Just so residents have something to compare them with, Hartley explained that the City of Tampa has 278,000 people and 1,000 police officers, while District IV has a population of only 40,000 less, or about 160,000, and 157 deputies.
“We had to close the community substations in Apollo Beach, Wimauma and Ruskin as well as in some other areas around the county,” Hartley said in a telephone interview Aug. 29. “But crime is relatively low in our area. In fact, we (Dist. IV) have the lowest crime rate in the county.”
Part of this is due to deputies' relationships with people they serve, he said.
Statistics for the various communities were available for the period of January through July, and proved to be quite different from what was expected.
The way crimes are measured is dictated by the FBI, Hartley explained. In some areas crimes are called by slightly different names, and that makes for a painstaking count, but the process is very accurate. Basically, the FBI calls the following Part I crimes. These are the serious crimes that need the fastest response and most time spent. These crimes include aggravated assault, auto theft, burglary, homicide, carjacking, forcible fondling (which includes all sex crimes except rape), grand theft, home invasion, rape, robbery, statutory rape (sex by someone over 21 with a minor), forced sodomy, theft from buildings and theft from vehicles.
“There are a lot of things we try and address when we can that aren’t actual crimes, but nuisances,” Hartley said. “Loud music. Gatherings. Speeding. People often mistake nuisances and blight for crime.”
The sheriff’s office recently partnered with county sanitation workers and code enforcement officials to remove garbage and trash from several areas of the county, including Wimauma, in a clean-up blitz called Operation Fight the Blight.
Meanwhile, results of the crime counts revealed that South County was lowest of all.
Of the South County communities, Tropical Acres had the fewest Part 1 crimes, with Wimauma coming in second. Third were Sun City Center, Apollo Beach and Riverview, followed by Sampson Park (the Causeway/S. Brandon area), Progress Village, Ruskin and Gibsonton.
“In the first seven months of this year, There were 21 Part I crimes in Wimauma; 20 in Tropical Acres; 31 in FishHawk; 56 in Sun City Center; 65 in Sampson Park; 130 in Ruskin; and 230 in Gibsonton,” he explained. “But a lot of those in Gibsonton were thefts from the Walmart.”
To paint an even better picture, he gave comparative numbers for aggravated assault, grand theft, and carjacking. There were two aggravated assaults in Wimauma and two in Tropical Acres; one carjacking in Ruskin; 42 grand thefts — 32 in Gibsonton, mostly at Walmart; three in Wimauma; one in Tropical Acres and six in Sun City Center.
“We had a total of three home invasions in the District in seven months, and no homicides,” he continued.
This is mild crime compared to areas where drive-by shootings endanger innocent families sitting in their houses at night.
“We are very fortunate,” he said. “We have good deputies and Community Resource Deputies who know who and where to watch.”
Hartley and his deputies are meeting in September with the Human Trafficking group so they can learn from each other, he said. It is not the first time.
“We want to keep this area safe in every way,” he said.