The Villages has Florida’s lowest crime rate

Community Watch officer Fred Springer, of the Village of Hemingway, jiggles doorknobs and walks the perimeter of a home Wednesday in the Village Alhambra.

Keeping The Villages Florida’s safest area is a group effort.

The crime rate in The Villages, expressed as total crimes per 100,000 population, is 1,058, according to FBI statistics for 2018, the latest numbers available. That’s the smallest of any census-designated metropolitan statistical area in the state. The Villages MSA includes all of Sumter County, including areas not in The Villages, but not parts of The Villages in Lake or Marion counties, which are part of other MSAs.

Much of The Villages lies in unincorporated Sumter County and thus comes under the protection of the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office. Part of the reason for the low crime rate stems from the operating philosophy of the department, according to Chief Deputy Chris Haworth. 

“It’s a series of things,” he said. “Most important is the consistent leadership of Sheriff (Bill) Farmer to embark on new ideas.”

Haworth also said keeping open the lines of communication with county residents has been important.

“The reality is, it’s a combination of great citizens who love to work with the sheriff’s office and the ability of Sheriff Farmer to create that communication.” 

As some examples of innovation in the department, Haworth cited the civilian traffic investigative unit and the use of civilian crime technicians, which free up sworn deputies for other tasks. Also, a system that allows deputies to phone in their reports, rather than type them into a computer, keeping them on patrol longer.  

The sheriff’s office also has programs such as Peace of Mind, in which people can call the sheriff’s office each day to let them know they’re all right; Vial of Life, a container residents can keep in their refrigerators containing vital medical information; and scent preservation kits, which help find those with dementia who have wandered from their homes. These efforts help ensure the safety of residents.

Haworth also said The Villages Public Safety Department’s Community Watch program provides a

helpful deterrent. 

Community Watch is responsible for the constantly cruising vehicles, gate attendants at 22 sites throughout The Villages and various services.

“Moving around in our vehicles is deterrent in itself,” said Nehemiah Wolfe, division chief of Community Watch. “We bring things to the attention of law enforcement.” 

Community Watch also does work behind the scenes to keep The Villages safe. Feeds are monitored from video cameras placed throughout The Villages and the dispatch center serves as an after-hours call center for all District departments, such as water, trash pickup and street lights.

The crime rate is obtained by adding the crimes per 100,000 population in seven categories: murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny-theft and motor vehicle theft.

The Villages also has the lowest violent crime rate in the state at 174.3. 

The area with the second-lowest crime rate in the state, according to the FBI, was the Punta Gorda MSA, with a rate of 1,324.2. Third was the Naples-Marco Island MSA at 1,351.4. The MSA with the worst crime rate in the state was Tallahassee, with 3,866.5.

Nationally, 2018 statistics show the estimated rate of violent crime was 368.9 offenses per 100,000 population, and the estimated rate of property crime was 2,199.5 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants. The violent crime rate fell 3.9% when compared with the 2017 rate; the property crime rate declined 6.9%.

Senior writer Steve Straehley can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5228, or steve.straehley@thevillagesmedia.com.

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