Crime stats: Beachsiders safe at home

How safe are the communities of Melbourne Beach and Indialantic?

Based on local and state crime data from multiple sources, each is about as safe as residents could hope for.

The annual Crime in Florida report issued in 2017 by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement covers every town, village, city and county in the state. A separate report from City-Data.com adds breadth to the data by providing 15 years of data, which can help in spotting trends. Then there’s the set of statistics reported by each of the towns in their respective annual budgets.

And as you might guess, one source’s data doesn’t necessarily agree with the others.

Indialantic is the smaller of the two jurisdictions, with a population of 2,811. Melbourne Beach had a population of 3,076 at the end of 2016.

Melbourne Beach, however, had less crime. Not only less crime, but less serious crime, according to City-Data. Neither town dealt with a murder or rape in 2016, but Indialantic had one robbery and five aggravated assaults. Melbourne Beach had two aggravated assaults and no robberies.

Geography and development likely played a role in Indialantic’s more serious crimes.

Melbourne Beach has minimal commercial development, most of it contained in a small area where Atlantic Street (A1A) turns into Ocean Avenue. There are a handful of stores and offices, a gas station and the town library.

That doesn’t mean the town is crime-free. “I attribute our low crime rate to community policing,” said Melbourne Beach Police Chief Dan Duncan. “Our officers are familiar with the residents and the business owners. A lot of the people in the community know us by name. They are also our eyes and our ears.”

There hasn’t been a murder or rape in Melbourne Beach in at least 15 years, according to City-Data. There have only been four robberies in that span, the most recent in 2012. Theft is the most common crime, but there have not been more than 20 per year since 2010.

“A lot of the reported burglaries are actually thefts from unlocked cars,” Duncan added, noting that the neighboring police forces work closely with each other. “We back each other up,” he said. “We know what’s going on there, and they know what’s going on here.”

Indialantic Police Chief Michael Casey reciprocated, noting that the two departments work well together.

Indialantic has much more visibility to the casual visitor. Cars traveling east from the City of Melbourne cross the Indian River Lagoon on U.S. 192. They are greeted on the barrier island by a sign welcoming people to Indialantic, which spans a single square mile. Yet that main drag is lined with businesses, restaurants and small shops.

“We get the hotels along the beach,” Casey noted.

Sometimes frustration sets in. Casey recalled a case in which someone stole a television, carried it into a backyard and then inside the house. The witness made the information public through the messaging site Next Door Neighbors.

“They posted it rather than call us,” Casey said. “It’s the classic ‘See something, say something’ opportunity.”

What worries Casey is maintaining the pipeline of recruits to staff police departments. “The Police Academy used to have 40 people in a class. Now it’s just 20.”

Brevard County tallies annual data from Sheriff Wayne Ivey’s office plus 13 police departments that operate within the county. That allows a head-to-head comparison.

The two localities are almost identical in size, separated by just under 1/10th of a mile. That’s where the similarities end. Melbourne Beach’s police force numbers a dozen, which includes a part-time crossing guard. Indialantic has 21 employees, and all but five are full-time.

Police departments are typically staffed using one of five methods, notes the International City-County Management Association. Police departments in both Indialantic and Melbourne Beach fit that model.

Crime levels and trends are cited most often in staffing requests. Other options include staffing per capita, minimum levels, budget allocations, and least, workload.

How Indialantic tallies demand for its police force has also changed. In 2016 the department switched to a new automated report management system, which assigns a number for each call for service. Previously, actions such as traffic stops, business and residential checks, and other activity were not recorded. With the change, total calls more than doubled from 3,713 in 2015 to 8,533 in 2016. Casey said his department is nearing 11,000 calls for 2017. Melbourne Beach uses a similar system, and has responded to more than 8,000 calls so far this year.

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