Despite the high profile stabbing of former USF football player Elkino Watson, the Tampa Police Department (TPD) says crime rates in Ybor remain lower than they were just a decade ago.
Between August 2001 and August 2002, TPD recorded nearly 480 violent crimes and one homicide. But from 2014 to 2015 that number has dropped to only 120 recorded violent crimes, according to crime statistics compiled by TPD.
Sunday’s fatal stabbing was the first recorded homicide in Ybor City in the last three years.
Andrea Davis, a spokeswoman for TPD, said the department credits their “Focus on Four” plan that began in 2002 for the reduction in crime rates in Ybor and throughout Tampa. The plan aims to target the biggest four crimes that occur in waves and can be tracked by TPD: burglary, robbery, auto theft and auto burglary.
“The bottom line is, in 2002 we changed the way we do business and it worked. When TPD began reinventing the approach, the city had one of the highest crime rates for a city our size. Clearly that has changed,” Davis said in an email to The Oracle.
Early Sunday morning, Watson, a former defensive lineman for the Bulls, was stabbed to death in a parking lot near The Orpheum nightclub. It is believed that an altercation occurred between Watson and another partygoer that spilled out into the lot.
According to TPD, the stabbing is not indicative of a larger problem.
TPD has been focused on reducing crime rates through community partnerships and data-based policing, and violent crime in Tampa has been reduced by two-thirds since 2002. Crime rates in Ybor, according to TPD, have also been cut in half since then.
By comparison, the university area has had nearly 950 reported violent crimes this year alone, according to the Hillsborough County Sherriff’s Office crime mapping system.
Still, however, Ybor has a reputation among many USF students as a crime-ridden city where they need to remain on guard. A number of students say rumors of fights and robbery in Ybor City spread through word of mouth on the USF campus.
Raul Balido, a senior majoring in finance, said he has heard stories from other students, including his girlfriend, about how bad crime is in Ybor City.
“I’ve heard it’s sketchy at night, so I try to stay in the highest-trafficked main areas when I’m there,” Balido said.
Nina Dodge, a senior majoring in biomedical sciences, said she also has a negative perception of the safety of Ybor because of stories she has heard from other students. Because of the rumors, she said she always stays in groups when she is there.
“It’s honestly not too bad, though. I have seen worse,” Dodge said. “I’ve been a couple times and it doesn’t really seem as bad as people say.”
No matter where a student may go out, Davis said, they should always exercise caution and remain aware of their surroundings so as to not be an easy target for criminals.
In the most recent case involving Watson, Davis said the best way to avoid a fight is to simply walk away.