SEBRING - Although Highlands County's crime rate has increased in some areas while the state crime rate has dropped overall when comparing the first six months of 2013 to 2012, Sheriff Susan Benton said the figures don't show the full story.
Benton said one important positive factor for Highlands County is that its clearance rate is about 37 percent for the major crimes, as compared to around 25 percent statewide. Benton praised her employees for achieving that.
The sheriff commented after the Florida Department of Law Enforcement released numbers of crimes for the first six months of 2013. Those figures were for the major crimes, also referred to as index crimes, which include murder, rape, robbery, burglary, aggravated assault, motor vehicle theft and theft.
The 2013 Semi-Annual Uniform Crime Report statewide indicated a 5.2 percent decrease in crime statewide. On the other hand, crime increased by 10.4 percent overall in Highlands County, the figures show.
The Highlands County Sheriff's Office had a 36 percent increase in those crime categories, the largest percentage increase of all agencies in Highlands County.
Nell Hays, public information officer for the Highlands County Sheriff's Office, said that the sheriff's office had a lower percentage increase than the area it serves of the county, while other agencies had higher percentage increases than the percentage of the county they serve.
The 36 percentage increase also did not take into account that Highlands County has taken over law enforcement for Avon Park, Benton said.
The largest increase was in the category of thefts. Highlands County had 471 thefts reported in the first half of 2012 compared with 726 in the first half of 2013.
But when Avon Park's thefts are added to the 2012 figure, the total becomes 593, as compared to 726.
Burglaries, however, when including Avon Park in the 2012 figure, decreased. Unincorporated Highlands County and Avon Park had 352 burglaries in the first half of 2012, compared to 335 during the first half of 2013.
With comparable figures, robberies decreased from 23 to 16.
Aggravated assaults increased slightly. During the first half of 2012, 81 aggravated assaults were reported in Highlands County and Avon Park. That compares with 98 for 2013.
Lake Placid had a 15.5 percent increase in reported index crimes and Sebring had 7 percent increase.
Sebring Police Cmdr. Steve Carr said despite that increase Sebring officers have done a good job in maintaining a low crime rate in the city.
He also noted that with relatively small numbers, a small increase can greatly affect the percentage.
Sebring's reported thefts increased from 157 to 176 when comparing the first halves of 2012 and 2013, while numbers of burglaries dropped from 70 to 58.
Lake Placid's reported thefts increased from 45 to 55 during the same periods.
Overall, index crimes in Highlands County increased from 1,438 during the first half of 2012 to 1,587 during first half of 2013.