‘Just chill out’: Polk County murder rate surging in second half of 2021

Polk County

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – The second half of 2021 is proving to be deadly in Polk County as the number of people killed surges, according to the sheriff’s office.

“Just chill out, drink a 7up, eat a MoonPie, quit murdering people,” Sheriff Grady Judd said Tuesday.

So far this year, 34 people have been killed in Polk County, including first and second degree murders, officer-involved shootings and homicides designated as “justified.”

Twenty seven people have been murdered, according to the sheriff’s office. Twenty three of those people have been killed since June.

The rise over the last few months includes two incidents involving multiple murder victims.

On Sept. 5, four members of a North Lakeland family were killed in their home by a man they did not know, according to the sheriff’s office.

Less than four weeks later, a Pennsylvania man beat three co-workers to death in Davenport, authorities said.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against both men.

“What’s that all about? Just calm down. Quit murdering your friends and your family. I know that’s a novel idea for some people,” Sheriff Judd said. “Our murder rate is up while our total crime rate is down but even in the demand for service, we see the angst.”

The latest incident was domestic in nature in Polk City.

Authorities captured Aroldo Paz, 39, in Texas on Monday. He is accused of killing his 74-year old aunt, Perfecta Paz, who adopted him as a child. She was found buried in the yard where she lived, along with her purse and medication, to make it look like she had left.

Paz’s weapon of choice was a box of tile, according to Judd.

“He breaks that over her back and neck and then he starts beating on her and jumping up on her kneeling on her until he kills her,” he said.

According to data provided by the sheriff’s office, this year’s number of homicides is the same as all of 2020: 34. In 2019, there were 19 people killed. In 2018, there were 27.

Most cases, Judd said, are personal, including domestic violence-related.

“It’s very difficult to police against that because the relationship is already there. Somebody didn’t pay for their dope. Somebody ripped off somebody’s dope,” Sheriff Judd explained.

A report from the St. Petersburg Police Department showed a similar drop in crime but 140% rise in homicides. The city saw 15 homicides last year compared to 27 in 2021, as of Oct. 6.

The violence is impacting minority communities.

“This kind of increase demonstrates that St. Petersburg – it’s not immune to the challenges of poverty and racism in this country,” said Rev. Kenneth Irby with the St. Petersburg Police Department.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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