While overall crime continues to decrease in Gainesville, the number of violent offenses in the city is on pace to exceed those reported last year, which had the highest reported rate since at least 2014.
Violent offenses overall have steadily increased over the past several years – including by 12% between 2015 to 2020, according to the Gainesville Police Department.
In 2015, GPD reported 930 cases of violent crime, which include murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults. Last year, it counted 1,042 such cases.
As of Oct. 12, the department reported 881 violent crimes in 2021. At that pace, the city would reach 1,128 reported offenses by Dec. 31, resulting in an 8% increase from 2020.
Over the past six years, there has been a drastic increase in sexual assault cases in Gainesville. Indeed, the number of such cases reported is on pace to be by year’s end the most since 2018, and the second most – a nearly 63% increase – since 2014, according to GPD.
From 2015 to 2016, Gainesville saw a drastic jump in sexual assault cases, from 111 to 142. As of Oct. 12, there were 130 such cases reported this year. That would put the city on track to have 166 cases by Dec. 31 – an almost 17% increase from five years ago.
Aggravated assault reports rose by 18% between 2019 and last year, the largest jump since 2014 and leading to a 23% bump for such crimes since that year. In 2021, aggravated assaults are on pace to exceed those recorded last year, according to GPD.
The city commission is set to hold a special meeting at 3 p.m. Monday, Oct. 18, to hear from Police Chief Tony Jones about a public safety gun initiative. City commissioners said Friday they were aware of the increased reports of violent crimes and expected to hear Jones address that as well.
“Yes, unfortunately in Gainesville, we’ve seen an increase in violence, especially gun violence,” Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said.
Commissioner Harvey Ward said he was “distressed and concerned” about the increases and called them “absolutely worrisome.”
Commissioners Ward and Hayes-Santos also stressed, however, that Gainesville’s circumstances are not unique.
Indeed, the FBI’s “Uniform Crime Report” for 2020, released last month, shows that violent crime rose nationally, led by significant jumps in murders and aggravated assaults.
As reported by the The Atlantic magazine, the murder rate rose by nearly 30% in 2020, the largest increase on record. There were about 21,500 murders, or 6.5 per 100,000 people. Aggravated assault, the most common form of violent crime, rose by 12%.
“It’s a little less clear what’s going on there, if I’m honest,” Jesse Jannetta, senior policy fellow at the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute in Washington, told WUFT News in an interview. Asked to explain why, Jannetta said, “Violence is a complicated social phenomenon.”
When analyzing the increases from 2019 to 2020, he said, it is important to consider how the pandemic shifted people’s engagements. As work and school became more difficult, summer was approaching and routines were disturbed, everyone’s lives were unsettled, he said.
Having more police on the streets can help to suppress violence, but relationships with the public and focused intervention are also critical, Jannetta said.
In March, Jones spoke to the Gainesville Police Advisory Council about the surge in aggravated assaults, and said he wanted to address these offenses along with sexual batteries.
In August, GPD launched the “One Community” initiative to focus on reducing gun violence. The initiative encourages the community to engage with police to help prevent gun-related incidents. The plan includes a gun buyback program and community policing.
The department currently has no specific initiatives regarding sexual assault, according to GPD spokesperson Graham Glover.
Two attacks on early Sept. 10 in southwest Gainesville left local women particularly concerned.
Police arrested Antwine Johnson in connection with those attacks and charged him with two counts of battery and one count of sexual battery and one count of kidnapping. Johnson remains in custody and was set to appear in court on Nov. 24.
After the attacks, local women said they started taking extra precautions to keep themselves safe.
Sara Michner, a senior studying psychology and education at the University of Florida, said the attacks have left her feeling hypervigilant when walking through her apartment complex, and caused her to change her daily routine while walking her dog Boog.
“Thank god I’m a senior,” said Michner, who now carries pepper spray to better protect herself. Referring to her apartment complex, “I wouldn’t want to sign here again. I don’t even feel safe.”
While going on runs at night, Samantha Hannon, a philosophy major at UF, has started wearing her hair in low buns.
“If you are wearing a ponytail or braid, it makes it easier for someone to grab you,” Hannon said.
UF alumnus Celine Smith said she is constantly “looking over her shoulder” since the incidents.
“I realized I need to be safer and probably not go out by myself as much at night,” Smith said.
Valentina Gomez contributed reporting to this story.