Chief: Officer shortage led to increase in crime
The most recent state Department of Law Enforcement’s semiannual uniform crime report shows crime has risen in Palatka over the past year, but local law enforcement authorities said they have identified the reason for the increase and are working to reverse it.
FDLE releases two uniform crime reports a year – an annual report and a semiannual report – which show how law enforcement agencies throughout the state compared to the previous year in terms of crimes committed in their jurisdictions.
FDLE’s semiannual report for 2018, which reported crime numbers submitted to the state from Jan. 1 to June 30, shows the total number of crimes reported to the Palatka Police Department increased to 363, compared to 274 crimes reported in 2017’s semiannual report. This represented a 32.5 percent increase in crimes reported.
Police Chief Jason Shaw said the largest reason for the increase in crime rates is personnel shortages within the police department. Shaw said the police department has made it a priority to make changes to reverse crime rate trends while they wait to be fully staffed.
“For us, we were short manpower, and being short, we weren’t being proactive. We were being reactive,” Shaw said. “We averaged being down at least five people in patrol for the year. Five people in patrol, that is almost an entire shift for us on a regular basis.”
Shaw said unexpected retirements, coupled with other staff departures, has been the root cause for personnel shortages. But the police department has reallocated manpower in recent months to fight the crime rate, and Shaw said they have found some success.
“We moved some of our detectives to fill into some patrol divisions,” Shaw said. “I can tell you we are trending back down. We are still going to have an increase but not a 32.5 percent increase.”
The 2018 semiannual report shows the number of aggravated assaults increased to 43, compared to 27 in the 2017 semiannual report. Reported larceny crimes increased as well, rising to 269 from the 172 reported in the 2017 semiannual report.
Shaw said being reactive toward crime trends makes it harder for law enforcement to prevent crimes before they occur, and being unable to be as proactive as they have been in the past has had an effect on crime numbers.
“Throughout the year, we follow crime trends. If you are able to be proactive and catch them as they occur, you can stop their impact,” he said.
But even with the increase in crime and the decrease in officers, Shaw said he sees a light at the end of the tunnel, and he is proud of how the police department has worked in recent months.
“I have been very impressed. I have had guys come in and work overtime on the days they are off. I have had guys come in and take extra assignments on top of their duties,” Shaw said. “I can’t say thank you to enough to where my guys are and what they are willing to do.”
Shaw said the police department would continue to make necessary changes and adjustments until it is fully staffed, and he believes it is on the right track due to recent data. Even the 2018 semiannual report is not all negative, as it shows the number of robberies and burglaries have decreased compared to the 2017 report.
“I think our numbers are trending down in a positive manner. I think they are trending in our favor, and I believe if we continue doing that, we can get the crime rate in Palatka and our numbers under control,” Shaw said.