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Car thefts, burglaries create rise in Fort Walton Beach annual crime rate

Car thefts, burglaries create rise in Fort Walton Beach annual crime rate

Crime in Fort Walton Beach increased, according to the department's own statistics.

Police Chief Ed Ryan said an upswing in car thefts and non-residential burglaries created a two percent increase in the annual crime rate, but they also said their community policing effort has made strides to bring drug and violent crime under control here in the Carson Drive area of town.

Edgardo Santiago always knew he wanted to be a cop. His uncles were officers in south Florida, it had a big impact on him.

"It was always one of those things where if I wasn't going to go in the Army, I was going to be a police officer. I was always built for it," Santiago said.

For the last six years, he's patrolled one of the most dangerous areas of town the streets surrounding Carson Drive.

In one month in 2016, the area had two shootings, one of which was fatal, and a raid for suspected drugs and prostitution activity.

"You know, if it was illegal, they supplied it," Santiago said of the street.

Things, he said, are getting better and crime is down in the neighborhood.

Inside police headquarters, Chief Ryan said the annual crime statistics tell a story of the town where non-violent crimes drive up numbers.

"We are up two percent this year. I'm still pretty happy to report and comfortable to report that we're not seeing large spikes in areas that are causing any major concern," Ryan said.

However, he said the community policing effort he introduced a year and a half ago have made the community a partner in reducing violent crimes.

He said Carson Drive is a success story.

"We were getting out and getting to know them, and its paid off so far. We've got several areas that were issues for us and we came together with the community and we were pretty successful," Ryan said.

Santiago believes the goal, a crimeless city, maybe a little closer after a year's work.

"To hear that people who lived on a street could have their first week of sleeping well. That made me feel good right there. Knowing that there are kids going to bed at night without having to hear violence or see things that they shouldn't see. And that keeps us pushing, that keeps us going," Santiago said.

Most categories of crime have dropped in the last year, but like the officers, commercial burglaries and car thefts are up.

The police believe many of these crimes were committed by a small group of people.

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