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Project Graduation and Lower Crime Stats-August 2013 Wakulla Times Article

CELEBRATING PROJECT GRADUATION WITH WHS SENIORS AND LOWER CRIME STATISTICS THROUGH FDLE

By Charlie Creel
Sheriff, Wakulla County

PROJECT GRADUATION---

The summer continues to move along and we are nearly ready to put students back in our schools. I hope everyone has had a good summer. For some reason the summer months seem to speed by quicker than others.
We will continue to provide our usual level of school safety and security as the 2013-2014 begins in the middle of the month.
Right before the 2012-2013 school year ended in May the Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office staff and members of the Wakulla EMS Unit and Wakulla Firefighters hosted the annual Project Graduation for members of the Wakulla High School senior class.

We had nearly 200 members out of a possible 250 students attend the party which began at 2 p.m. and concluded after 11 p.m. on the day before graduation. They received Project Graduation T-shirts and wrist bands for attending.

We had a huge chunk of our staff working the day and night to make sure all of the seniors had a great time and to make sure they were safe from the dangers of drinking and driving and illegal narcotics.
We asked each senior to sign a pledge form that stated they would not drink and drive or take drugs over their graduation weekend. It is important to the sheriff’s office that the seniors take the pledge seriously because the last thing we want is one of our seniors getting hurt or killed during one of the most special times of their lives.

Organizing an event this large is not an easy task and providing an outstanding night of activities takes lots of money. We created a committee to serve as both a fundraising group and organizing body to make sure the seniors had a great time.

Once the students arrived at Wakulla Springs State Park they were greeted by WCSO staff that made sure they were signed in and eligible to receive many prizes that was given away during the event. In past years Project Graduation has been held at numerous locations and it has taken on many different formats. Some of the events lasted a few hours in Tallahassee and others lasted all night in Wakulla County.

In organizing an event of this size we wanted to take advantage of the Wakulla Springs Park because it has swimming and boating opportunities as well as plenty of room to play ball, eat and spend time with close friends.
Students enjoyed the Wakulla Springs swimming area and the dive tower during the afternoon while the WCSO staff cooked hamburgers and hot dogs and had plenty of cold drinks available. Wakulla Springs offered the students Jungle Cruise tours in the late afternoon and WCSO scooped up ice cream in the lodge for students to enjoy cones and bowls of ice cream.

An area of the picnic section of the park was set up for our staff to sign in students and give away prizes and students also had room for football games and a bon fire as the evening wore on. The seniors loved the sumo wrestling suits provided by the Emergency Management Division and the water slide which was provided for students by our E-911 Division. Corn hole targets were set up at several locations and students attempted to test their aim.

Karaoke and a photo booth were set up in the lodge for students to sing and take pictures while they created memories. Pizza was delivered later in the event as hungry seniors consumed food all day and night. Our pop corn machine was a big hit with students and adults and live music was featured as darkness arrived.

A time capsule was created by the WCSO maintenance staff to allow students to place items inside for digging up during future reunions. The time capsule was buried at Wakulla High School.
Everyone was pretty weary as 11 p.m. passed and some larger prizes were given away to students whose names were drawn at random.

As the hour approached midnight, many of the weary students drove to the front of the park and back to their homes. They had a busy day the following morning as school officials held a practice for graduation and eventually the real event during the evening.

It was a tiring event but it was one of the most uplifting to see the seniors having such a good time on one of their final nights together as a group. The bottom line was that the students had fun and they stayed safe on a very special week of their lives.

The WCSO plans to do this again next year and our goal is to make it even better each year it is held. What did we learn from Project Graduation? Students love to have a good time, they love prizes and they can eat like there is no tomorrow. But it was our pleasure to do this for them. Their smiles told us all we needed to know about their opinion of the event.

FDLE CRIME STATISTICS---

The crime rate fell in Wakulla County in 2012 while the crime clearance rate went up in Wakulla, according to recently released statistics from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). The State of Florida crime statistics are down as well and the state cleared slightly more cases on average in 2012 than were cleared in 2011.

The FDLE Crime In Florida report measures seven index crimes including: murder, forcible sex offenses, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft. The only areas where Wakulla County had an increase were motor vehicle theft, from 14 to 22, and aggravated assault, from 48 to 57. Overall the index crimes were down by 7.7 percent, 841 in 2011 to 776 in 2012.

There are a number of factors that led to the reduced crime rate in our county. We have streamlined the Criminal Investigations Division (CID) by adding deputies to our Youth and Community Services Division through the COPS grant. This has allowed this group of deputies to concentrate on juvenile issues and cases and allows the other detectives to focus mostly on adult cases. We also have dedicated law enforcement officers who work extremely hard to make sure we solve as many crimes as possible. In addition, we have great cooperation between the WCSO and other law enforcement agencies which help solve cases that involve more than one jurisdiction.

I am pleased that Wakulla County is ranked as the 14th highest county of the 67 in Florida in crime clearance. Wakulla solved 42.7 percent of its cases in 2012 which was up from 39.1 percent of the cases in 2011.

Liberty County ranked as the best county with a crime clearance of 77.1 percent. Bradford County cleared 74.6 percent of its cases and Union County cleared 67.7 percent. Jefferson County and Taylor County were ranked fourth and fifth respectively. The other counties in the top 14 were Lafayette, Bay, Baker, Washington, Calhoun, Marion, Clay and Putnam.

Most of the counties ranked higher for crime clearance than Wakulla were counties with smaller population. The state crime clearance rate was 24.8 percent.

During the summer months the Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office has an increase in the number of visitors and this does occasionally translate into more transient crime. The WCSO works well with the surrounding counties, particularly the Leon County Sheriff’s Office and Tallahassee Police Department, to address transient issues that come from our north.

Looking at the index crime statistics, murder was down from two in 2011 to none in 2012; forcible sex crimes were down from 34 to 31; robberies were down from seven to four; aggravated assault increased from 48 to 57; burglaries dropped from 167 to 149; larceny dropped from 569 to 513; and motor vehicle theft increased from 14 to 22.


Wakulla County reported 841 index crimes in 2011 and 776 in 2012 for a decrease of 7.7 percent. Of the 776 index crimes, 92 were violent crimes and 684 were nonviolent. The WCSO arrested 700 individuals including 663 adults, 560 of which were male and 140 were female.

The number of violent crimes increased by one from 2011 to 2012, 91 to 92 cases. The number of nonviolent crimes decreased from 750 to 684 over the same time period. The state estimated a population loss of 106 residents from 2011 to 2012. The reduced crime statistics also reduced Wakulla County’s crime rate considerably.

The number of arrests from 2011 to 2012 dropped 34.8 percent from 1,074 to 700.
Wakulla County property owners reported a total of $705,780 worth of stolen property value and WCSO detectives recovered $175,948 worth of stolen property.

The state statistics were announced by Governor Rick Scott. The report shows Florida’s crime rate dropped 6.5 percent compared to 2011. The total number of crimes fell 5.7 percent from last year which translates into 43,536 fewer crimes in 2012. The number of violent crimes was down 4.3 percent or 4,218 fewer crimes reported.

Governor Scott said, “It is because of the hard work of Florida’s law enforcement community that we can celebrate today’s great news about Florida’s crime rate. Having a low crime rate is important to my goal of creating jobs and opportunities for Florida families, and making our state the best state in the nation to live, work or raise a family.”

Attorney General Pam Bondi added, “The decrease in crime in our state is a direct reflection of the outstanding job our law enforcement officers and prosecutors do to make Florida a safe home to its residents and guests. With this steady decline in our crime rate for the forty-second consecutive year, I am hopeful that we will see across-the-board declines, specifically in the number of reported domestic violence homicides and sex-related crimes.”

Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey said, “While Florida’s population continues to increase, the number of crimes continues to fall. This report is good news for Florida families, businesses and visitors. I commend our law enforcement professionals in their efforts to keep us safe.” Florida population increased from 18,905,048 in 2011 to 19,074,434 in 2012. Wakulla County’s population dropped from 30,877 to 30,771.

Highlands County Sheriff and Florida Sheriff’s Association President Susan Benton said, “The results of the 2012 Uniform Crime Report are testimony to the dedication and courage of each and every Florida Sheriff, deputy sheriff and law enforcement officer in the state. We are making a difference day by day and through such joint initiatives as the Florida Sheriffs Task Force, whose recent five-week operation focused on protecting our youth from the dangers of alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs.”

The Florida Police Chiefs Association President, Chief Dennis Jones of Tallahassee Police Department, stated, “These numbers demonstrate the quality of law enforcement officers we have in our state.  As law enforcement agencies and its officers are required to do more with less, I am proud of the dedication they have demonstrated in keeping our citizens and communities safe.”   
President of the Florida Prosecuting Attorney’s Association, State Attorney Bill Eddins, said, "The Florida Prosecuting Attorney's Association is pleased that the number of crimes committed in the State of Florida has continued to decline. It is especially important to note the number of violent crimes has dropped more than four percent as compared to 2011. We believe that this is due in part to the dedication and hard work of prosecutors and law enforcement officers throughout Florida. We appreciate both the Governor and Legislature for providing us the tools necessary to continue to protect the citizens of our State."

Non–violent crime decreased 5.9 percent or a reduction of 39,318 reported crimes compared to 2011.  The value of stolen property decreased by 9.1 percent while the value of property recovered increased 2.7 percent. Total arrests increased 0.8 percent from 2011.

Overall domestic violence fell 3.3 percent. While there were 3,635 fewer victims of domestic violence in 2012, cohabitants continue to be the largest group of victims in this category, with spouses remaining the second largest group.

Crimes committed by firearms continued to drop in 2012, down 2.0 percent with 489 fewer crimes committed with guns in 2012.

The report also contains information on officers killed feloniously. Two law enforcement officers and one correctional officer died from criminal causes while on duty during 2012. In addition, two law enforcement officers died accidently during the course of duty.

FDLE began tracking crime statistics in 1971.

 

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