Is Jacksonville still murder capital of Florida?

River City displaced by tiny Arcadia in 2017 despite more slayings

By Steve Patrick - News4Jax digital managing editor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - With a quaint downtown and surrounded by old Florida nature, Arcadia bills itself as the best small town in America. But it earned a new name in 2017: Murder capital of the state.

Based on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's Uniform Crime Report, the number of murders in DeSoto County tripled last year -- from 2 to 6 -- even as the county's overall crime rate went down 1.8 percent. Five of those murders took place in the county seat: Arcadia, a city of only 7,677 people.

Other communities have knocked Jacksonville out of its dubious reputation as having the most murders per capita in Florida. For instance, Orlando's murder rate surged in 2016 after a gunman killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub.

There were no mass killings in Arcadia last year. According to news reports, these were individual murders. But its murder rate was an aberration, not a trend.

Murders in 2017

Murders per 100,000 population (FDLE data)
DeSoto County (Arcadia) 16.84
Duval County (Jacksonville) 11.95
Leon County (Tallahassee) 7.64
Miami-Dade County  (Miami) 6.85
Orange County (Orlando) 5.32
Broward County  (Fort Lauderdale)  5.07
Hillsborough County   (Tampa)  4.56
    

But more killings elsewhere doesn't mean deadly violence in Jacksonville has improved. FDLE data show 112 murders in Duval County in 2017 -- six more than the previous year.

That's 16.8 slayings per 100,000 Jacksonville residents, giving the city the highest murder rate of Florida's largest cities. By far. 

Florida's capital, Tallahassee, which had the highest overall crime rate in 2017, had a significant uptick in murders last year -- but its rate was only 64 percent that of Jacksonville.

Miami-Dade's per capita murder rate was 57 percent of Duval County's. Jacksonville's 2017 murder rate was more than double that of Orlando, Fort Lauderdale or Tampa.

With 180 police officers trained and on the beat in Jacksonville and new supporting technology in 2018, Mayor Lenny Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams were optimistic in the spring, believing the city was turning the tide on the violence.

"While this is by no means where we want to be, we know we're headed in the right direction for our neighborhoods and families and future of our city," Williams said in late May.

Then came June, where the number deadly shootings not only increased dramatically -- 15 in the first 19 days of the month -- and has spread into parts of town not often touched by this level of violence.

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office believes a triple murder near the St. Johns Town Center the first week of June and other recent shootings are gang-related.

Not quite halfway through 2018, there have been 56 homicides in Duval County. While not all homicides qualify as murders, Jacksonville appears on track to retain its unwanted title as murder capital of Florida.

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