While the Florida Keys may provide a fertile setting for crime fiction by the likes of Carl Hiaasen and James W. Hall, in reality the islands are getting safer, according to statistics from local law enforcement agencies.
The Key West Police Dept. and the Monroe County Sheriff's Office have sent their annual reports on major crimes to the Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement. In Key West, overall crime dropped 8.3 percent while the Sheriff's Office, which patrols the island chain outside of Key West, reported a 5.9 percent decrease. The statewide report for 2014 has not yet been released.
"We’ve been going down in crime since the very early 90s, pretty consistently," said Deputy Becky Herrin, spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Office. "I think a lot of it has to do with demographic changes in the Keys."
Burglaries were down but the Keys have seen spates of boat equipment theft in recent years.
"We’re working with other agencies in South Florida because this is not just a Keys problem," Herrin said. "We think these are organized groups that are traveling to the Keys and stealing the equipment. We’re seeing rods and reels, we’re seeing lower units thefts, we’re seeing electronic equipment. Some of it’s local but we think some of it is an organized effort to steal this stuff in South Florida in general."
Aggravated assaults dropped from 172 to 149 in the Sheriff's Office report but went up in Key West, from 122 to 141.
Throughout the island chain, the number of burglaries decreased, almost 15 percent in the sheriff's jurisdiction and 13 percent in Key West. But Keys cops say if Keys residents were a little less laid-back, there would be even fewer burglaries. In Key West, less than 20 percent of the burglaries had signs of forced entry.
"That’s something we see a lot, when we respond to a crime somebody will say, 'Oh I’ve always left my doors unlocked or I always leave my rods and reels on my boat," Herrin said. "It’s very frustrating to investigate a crime that would be so simple to prevent."
The most serious crime of all — murder — remains a rarity. Key West hasn't had a murder case since 2012 and the Sheriff's Office reported its murder cases dropped in half last year, from two to one.