By Carrie A. Mizell
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s 2018 Uniform Crime Report has found Gilchrist County’s overall crime increased 75.8 percent from 2017 to 2018. According to FDLE, robbery was down, while murder, rape, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and vehicle theft was up in 2018.
Sheriff Bobby Schultz said crime has gone up in Gilchrist County, but not by 75.8 percent. He feels the FDLE crime report shows a discrepancy in his department’s reporting of accurate crime statistics.
“The numbers that were reported for 2017 were not as accurate as they should have been,” Schultz explained. “Whether it was computer or human error, only half of the numbers for 2017 got reported. We knew there was a discrepancy in the numbers that were reported, but we did not know the report would show a 75 percent increase in crime.”
Sheriff Schultz said his department has changed reporting systems twice since 2016 and he knows that only half of the 2017 crime statistics were reported. The sheriff said he typically feels that the FDLE Uniform Crime Report gives a good representation of crime statistics in a county, but he does not believe that the latest report is a good gauge, because the reporting of numbers was not as accurate as it should have been.
“I think the vast majority of Gilchrist County residents realize that this is not Chicago,” Schultz said. “We live in a safe community. Anyone who has questions about our crime numbers, come sit and talk with me, I can show you the real numbers.”
In April 2018, local residents were rocked when two Gilchrist County Sheriff’s deputies were ambushed and killed inside a Trenton restaurant while eating lunch. The murders of Sgt. Noel Ramirez, 29, and Deputy Taylor Lindsey, 25, were noted on the FDLE Crime Report, which showed that the county’s murder rate jumped from 0 percent in 2017 to 200 percent in 2018.
Prior to the homicides of Ramirez and Lindsey, Sheriff Schultz said his department was already shorthanded due to retirement and pay issues.
“We had a lack of manpower in 2017,” Shultz said. “Since then 10 new deputies have been hired.”
In addition to homicides, the FDLE Crime Report showed that rape was also up in Gilchrist County. Four cases were reported in 2018. There were no rapes reported the year prior. Robberies dropped from six cases in 2017 to two cases in 2018. The number of local aggravated assault cases reported went from 19 in 2017 to 20 cases in 2018. Burglary and larceny saw the most significant increases last year. There were 38 reported burglaries in 2017 and 63 burglary cases in 2018. Larceny increased from 28 cases in 2017 to 69 reported cases in 2018. In 2018, there were 7 reported motor vehicle thefts in Gilchrist County, up from 4 cases in 2017. All of these statistics were outlined in the FDLE Uniform Crime Report.
The report also showed that the Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office had a 32.3 percent clearance rate on cases in 2018, which is well above the state average of 25.3 percent.
“The clearance rates shows that in 30 to 40 percent of cases we are able to make arrests or clear the cases,” Schultz said.
This year, Sheriff Schultz said his department has seen a rise in local thefts, particularly over the last month.
According to Investigator Todd Holder, of the Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office, approximately $70,000 in stolen property has been recovered.
“There is no rhyme or reason as to where the thefts are occurring in the county,” Holder said. “Most of my suspects in these thefts are not part of our community, they cross county lines.”
Two weeks ago, the Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office filed a sworn complaint against Melton Cannon, of Levy County, who was already incarcerated. Cannon will be charged with stealing a tractor from North Florida Peanuts, Investigator Holder said. The tractor was recovered, though it had extensive mechanical damage.
“We are an agriculture based county,” Holder said. “These thefts are hitting the heart of our county. We’ve been able to focus our resources on these investigations.”
Investigator Holder said suspects have been identified and arrests are pending on several other agriculture- related thefts in the community.
When asked if the majority of the thefts were drug-related, Investigator Holder said, “In crimes of this nature, when someone steals pricey equipment just to move it quick, they are looking for a quick source of income...”
Investigator Holder said, “We will do our best to rid this county of the element who wants to take from those who get up and go to work everyday.”
FDLE: Gilchrist Crime Rate up 75.8%
By Carrie A. Mizell