News Herald Reporter
Posted Aug 24, 2017 at 5:34 PM
Updated Aug 24, 2017 at 5:45 PM
We live in a safe community,” Beach Police Chief Drew Whitman said in an interview with The News Herald. “There’s not a place in this city I wouldn’t walk down the street alone at night.”
PANAMA CITY BEACH — A report that found Panama City Beach was one of the most dangerous cities in the nation has drawn sharp criticism from local officials.
Safewise, a Salt Lake City-based home security company, recently released the report, called “The 30 Most Dangerous Cities in America — 2017.” It draws on FBI crime stats from 2015 and concluded Panama City Beach ranked 22nd in the country for violent crimes and property-related crimes per capita. The report prompted Panama City Beach Police Chief Drew Whitman to defend the performance of his police department Thursday before the Beach Council.
Whitman presented the council with context to the company’s findings. He did not dispute the numbers, but he said Safewise did not take into account the influx of about 14 million visitors each year.
“We live in a safe community,” Whitman said in an interview with The News Herald. “There’s not a place in this city I wouldn’t walk down the street alone at night.”
In its report, Safewise included all cities across the country with populations of more than 10,000 people. With the Beach’s population of about 12,500 in 2015, Safewise concluded the residents of Panama City Beach were more likely to be a victim of a crime than those of Detroit or New Orleans or New York City. It found that for every 1,000 people, about 11 suffered violent crimes, and out of every 1,000 people, about 88 fell victim to property crimes.
Based on those stats, Panama City Beach placed 22nd in crime nationwide, sandwiching it between Anniston, Alabama, and North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Also among the named cities was Branson, Missouri, coming in at 10th. But noticeably absent were large metropolitans known for being crime hot spots.
Emily Long, spokeswoman for Safewise, said its methodology is meant to “level the playing field” among different cities, but many large metros escape the list due to their higher populations, she said.
“This also means that although the total number of crimes committed in larger cities is higher, you are statistically less likely to experience a crime in major metro areas because the population is so large,” Long wrote in an email. “As far as the list containing tourist destinations, police departments don’t differentiate between crimes committed against residents and visitors — and it’s certainly possible that in some places tourists are targeted for certain crimes.”
Long said the chances of being a victim in the 30 cities listed still was relatively low. The company’s goal is not to condemn the listed cities, she added, but to promote a “conversation about how we can work together to make our communities safer.”
In his presentation, however, Whitman estimated that with the given influx of 14 million visitors each year, violent crimes likely touched the lives of about two people per every 1,000, and about 20 people of every 1,000 fell victim to property crime. Whitman also said crime rates have been declining in the past few years.
“The majority of our rates went down,” Whitman said. “Some thefts are up for 2017, like auto thefts, but that’s the way it goes.”
Annual reports released by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), which the FBI bases its reports upon, confirm the crime rates during the past five years in Panama City Beach have steadily decreased. From 2012, combined rates have slid from about 11.5 violent and property crimes per 1,000 people to about 9.8 crimes per 1,000 people, using the same calculation of total crimes over population. It’s unclear why Panama City Beach was listed as “previously not ranked” when its crime rates have been higher in the past.
Whitman said because of the murkiness surrounding the crime stats, he tries not to focus as much on those numbers as he does on the clearance rate, which means a complaint resulted in an arrest.
“That’s why I don’t come out and pound my chest when the numbers are down,” Whitman said. “Our clearance rate is more important to me.”