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St. Petersburg police seek answers to end rising gun violence

30 homicides in 2021 double St. Petersburg's 2020 total of 15 shooting deaths
St. Pete rising gun violence
Posted at 10:20 PM, Nov 17, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — There are more murders in St. Petersburg this year than in any year in the last decade. Police detectives are drained from never-ending investigations and some residents feel unsafe outside their own homes.

“When they turn on the news or read the newspaper they think, ‘Okay, who got killed today?’” said St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway.

Violence in Tampa's partner city has been overwhelming over the past 11 months. ABC Action News spoke with Chief Holloway just days before the city's 30th homicide - double the 15 shooting deaths his department handled last year.

"Those numbers just keep going up and up and up," he said.

Holloway said his detectives are fatigued, not just by the caseload, but the absence of any clear pattern to pin these shootings on.

"It's murder-suicide, it's family members, it's domestics, it's friends," Holloway said. "It's all over the board."

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To understand what is happening it's critical to understand why it is happening. ABC Action News spoke with Bryanna Fox, an associate professor of criminology at the University of South Florida. Fox met with her colleagues in Chicago, this week, at the American Society of Criminology's annual conference after a historic nationwide rise in homicides in 2020.

“There’s been a notable increase in homicides, in particular homicides involving firearms," Fox said.

The FBI's 2020 Uniform Crime Report shows a record 30 percent rise in murders from 2019. The trend was reflected in the state of Florida.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement's annual crime report shows the murder rate rose 14.7 percent from 2019 to 2020. Nearly 80 percent of those murders involved a firearm.

“Root cause number one?" Holloway said. "Gun violence.”

"Massive uptick in gun sales and availability," Fox said.

Fox said there were more guns sold over the past year and a half than at any other point in United States history. Stats sent to ABC Action News by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement reveal 2.13 million firearm background checks were conducted over the last 18 months.

"There are more guns available now than there ever were in history," Fox said.

"The more these guns are on the street, the more harm they can do," Holloway said.

Holloway said criminals know those guns are out there for the taking. He said hundreds of guns are being stolen out of vehicles in St. Petersburg and either used in crimes or sold for drugs, cash, or another firearm.

“Even if there is something else valuable in there, they’ll leave it behind," Fox said. "They’re just specifically looking for guns.”

“Once you pull out that gun and pull that trigger, you can’t say sorry anymore," Holloway said. "Sorry is gone.”

Holloway said these suspects almost always seek forgiveness, and when they are asked why they did it their response is one of uncertainty.

"They say, 'I don't know,'" Holloway said.

The same conclusion detectives draw from 30 tragedies, but it does not mean they will stop working to end the violence.

"Enough is enough," Holloway said.

Chief Holloway is working with the community and county partners to increase mental health and behavioral services to prevent more shootings. BayCare and Suncoast Center offer outreach services to help those in Pinellas County struggling with mental health.