FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) - Florence's violent crime rate is declining and police are attributing that to the growing popularity of neighborhood watch groups.
"Certainly we believe that neighborhoods and business owners know more about what's going on around them than the law enforcement officers patrolling the area," Florence Police Chief Allen Heidler said.
Statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation show the violent crime rate fell about 25 percent between 2009 and 2012 for the city of Florence.
The Florence Police Department reported five murders back in 2009 compared to two in 2013. There have also been fewer aggravated assaults.
"Historically, it was a problem," said Pat Gibson-Hye Moore, chair of East Florence Concerned Citizens. "I do see some change over the past few years there has been some change. We still have crimes, but they're more crimes like burglaries."
Florence has gone from having two crime watch groups back in the late 90's to 40 organizations today.
"We want people to watch their neighbors, watch their yards," said Kathryn Phillips, president of the Maple Park Neighborhood Association. "If you're home and you see somebody in somebody's yard and they don't look like they belong there then call the police."
By developing relationships with the community, the police department has been able to make people feel more comfortable calling to report anything suspicious is going on.
"If you know a police officer, you're a whole lot more likely to be willing to up to them and say, 'Hey, I saw somebody over there who looked like they might be selling drugs or something,'" Phillips said.
The Florence County Sheriff's Office has also seen fewer violent crimes in recent years.. including half the aggravated assaults in 2013 as 2009.