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Orlando police chief highlights violent crime reduction, wants harsher penalties for youth in gang crimes

Chief Eric Smith says he is in favor of juveniles facing more consequences and having a stronger juvenile justice system

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Orlando Police Department Deputy Chief Eric Smith speaks during a press conference.

Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/ Orlando Sentinel

By Christopher Cann
Orlando Sentinel

ORLANDO, Fla. — Orlando Police Department Chief Eric Smith on Thursday announced sizable drops in crime rates since he took office but also a rise in gang activity and minors committing crimes throughout the city.

When comparing statistics from September through February with numbers from the same months a year prior, there was an 8% decrease in violent crime, including homicide, robbery, battery, carjacking and home invasion. The number of shootings within city limits reduced by 12% in the same time frame, Smith said.

Meantime, the number of guns used in crimes that have been taken off the streets jumped 47%.

“How does this happen?,” Smith, who took office in September, said. “Reorganization of patrol has put more officers on the streets and the active police work of our specialty units, such as our gang, drug and TAC (violent crime) units, have led to our success.”

Smith said he grew the number of officers on patrol squads from 10 to 12 each. Some patrol behind the wheel, while others are on foot or in bike squads.

The clearance rate was also a source of pride for the chief: There were 18 homicides in Orlando between September and February and, as of Thursday, 16 have been solved. “We’re always going to have homicides, but it’s how you work those homicides that’s most important,” Smith said.

However, gang activity, which has been related to several high-profile crimes in recent months, is “on the rise,” Smith said.

“We have seen an increase in gang activity throughout the city,” he said. “A lot of the crimes that we are having are coming from younger individuals.”

In July, seven people were shot near Wall Street in downtown Orlando following a large fight that Smith said was a dispute among rival gangs. In December, the weapon believed to have been used in the incident was recovered and 10 people of interest were being investigated. No suspects have been charged as of Thursday.

And last week in Orange County, Keith Moses, a 19-year-old who Sheriff John Mina said was in a gang, shot and killed a Spectrum News 13 journalist, a 38-year-old woman and a 9-year-old girl in Pine Hills.

[LEARN: How one PD uses collaboration to battle gangs]

Along with expanding police presence throughout downtown, Smith added that he would like to see harsher penalties for juveniles charged in connection with serious crimes.

“I think one of the reasons it may be happening is because they’re not getting some of the penalizations they should be getting,” the chief said. “Most juveniles know that if they do a violent crime at age 16 or 17, they’ll be right back out when they’re 18.”

“I’m definitely in favor of juveniles facing more consequences and having a stronger juvenile justice system set up where there are penalties for those violent acts,” he continued. “Once a juvenile picks up a gun and starts shooting people or doing violent acts, there’s got to be major consequences. You can’t just say ‘Go in this program, you’ll be out in a few weeks.’ It just doesn’t work.”

Following the deadly Pine Hills shootings, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office demanded records from the Orange-Osceola State Attorney’s Office related to the past cases against Moses, who had been arrested previously on charges including domestic battery, burglary, grand theft and drug possession.

The letter said the request was made to determine if the shooter “was enabled by gaps in our sentencing laws that must be corrected” or negligence on the part of the State Attorney’s Office.

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