Sheriff: Growth a huge factor in Nassau County's crime increase

Overall crime in Nassau County increases 8.4%

Crime increases in Nassau County, the sheriff explains why.

NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. – Crime is up in Nassau County, one of the fastest-growing Northeast Florida areas.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement's 2018 Uniform Crime Report released Monday found Nassau County's overall crime increased 8.4%, with the Nassau County Sheriff's Office seeing a 9.5% increase and the Fernandina Beach Police Department seeing a 3.8% increase. Violent crimes went down. The most common crime is theft.  

Sheriff Bill Leeper told News4Jax on Tuesday that population growth is a huge factor in the crime increase. He said Nassau County is the ninth fastest-growing county in Florida and that with a low crime rate already, any increase in crime seems significant. 

"It’s no secret that Nassau County is growing," Leeper said. "Subdivisions with commercial projects going up. Along with that growth comes a lot of issues."

Those issues are driving some residents such as Lori Ann Mooney to want to sell her home. She has lived in Yulee since 2008 and is not happy with the effects of the growth.

"I noticed things were developing, but you never really heard sirens. If you heard sirens, it was like once a month, maybe. But now I hear sirens several times a day and it’s just freaky to me," Mooney said. "I look around and I’m, like, 'I need to get the heck out of here.'"

Mooney said she knows crime is everywhere, but she feels unsafe in her neighborhood now.

"I see a lot of police cars in that neighborhood that we never used to see before -- about 2014-2015 is when that started to happened," she said. "(I) would love to stay here but the crime kind of scares me."

Others in town said they do feel safe and don't see a crime problem.

"People are so fantastic here on the island and off the island. Everyone is friendly," resident Robert Dorneman said. "I realize crime is going up and I’m very disappointed to hear that."

Resident Erica Scheider was surprised by the increase in crime. 

"Because it's such a small community," she said. 

Leeper said the numbers really aren’t a good indication of crime in the county. For instance, the murder rate went up 100% because there was one murder in 2017 and two in 2018.

He also said he is adding more personnel to keep up with the growth.

Nassau was among four Northeast Florida counties where the overall crime volume increased. Alachua County's was up 7.9%, Clay County's was up 7.7% and Putnam County's was up 10.2%. 

Overall crime dropped 7.4% in Florida.

County-by-county breakdown of 2017-18 crime statistics