Retha Lowe has lived in her home on 12th Avenue South for 40 years, raising four children there.
But it was far from a Ward and June Cleaver experience. Years ago, crime was rampant, Lowe said, with the area infested with drug dealers and prostitutes. Break-ins were common.
To clean up the area, the former city commissioner led drug marches and even had the corner phone booth removed.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office added a big assist, Lowe said, when it took over patrolling the city’s streets seven years ago, a feeling echoed by many residents who routinely take part in neighborhood association Crime Walks.
“I feel safer now than when I first came here,” Lowe said. “We don’t even lock our doors when we go to sleep.”
For years, this eccentric beach town has been battling the perception it’s only filled with blight and crime and nothing else.
Not helping matters, residents say, is a recent report from a website that ranked the 10 most “dangerous” cities in the state, with Lake Worth coming in at No. 4, behind only Homestead, Fort Pierce and Daytona Beach and beating out Rivera Beach, listed at No. 7.
The city came in No. 34 on the top 100 most crime-ridden cities in the country as ranked by NeighborhoodScout.com, a website affiliated with Location Inc., a Worcester, Mass., data company that helps businesses choose where to base themselves and sell their products. With a crime rate of 71 per 1,000 residents, Lake Worth has one of the highest crime rates in America compared to all communities of all sizes, the website said. The site said it reports crime rates, school reports and home appreciation values for every neighborhood in America.
Using data released by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the report said there’s a one in 78 chance of being a victim of violent crime, and a one in 17 chance of being a victim of property crime.The city had a crime rate index of three, with 100 being the safest, meaning — according to NeighborhoodScout — that Lake Worth is safer than only 3 percent of all cities in the United States.
City officials and residents, however, are crying foul and say once again the city is getting a bum rap because the report, they claim, also included data from suburban Lake Worth communities that aren’t in city limits.
The city has two ZIP codes — 33460 and 33461 — yet the report lists five.
“It’s totally wrong and egregious and I take exception to it,” said City Manager Michael Bornstein. “They’re taking some of the areas west of Lake Worth … and they’re taking that whole area and lumping it with our population. The data is worthless.”
Mayor Pam Triolo called the report unfair and inaccurate.
“We have enough to handle in this city,” she said. “We don’t need to take on those other areas as well. It’s an unfair black eye.”
However in an email to The Palm Beach Post, Patty Counihan, an operations manager for NeighborhoodScout, said the surrounding, unincorporated areas shown on the map were for visual purposes only.
“NeighborhoodScout….only used data for the city of Lake Worth, not the surrounding towns,” Counihan said. “Without the visuals, unincorporated towns would be left out entirely.”
Deborah Castello has lived in the city for five years and said she no longer feels safe. She used to walk to the Publix and CVS on North Dixie Highway, but she doesn’t do that much anymore. Sometimes she’ll go during the day. But never at night.
“Every other day there seems to be a robbery in this area,” said Castello, who lives on South L Street. “I have an 8-year-old German shepherd and the only time I feel safe is when I’m walking with her.”
Three years ago, Mark Parrilla, a community activist and head of the Genesis Neighborhood Association, said he was dragged for a block-and-a-half by a passenger in a moving car who tried to steal his iPhone.
“But I still feel safe because I know I’m being part of the solution,” Parrilla said.
What NeighborhoodScout’s report doesn’t tell you, residents say, is that Lake Worth crime has decreased since the sheriff’s office took over, with murders, robberies, burglaries and car thefts all on the decline.
In his quarterly report to the City Commission in June, former Capt. Rolando Silva said murders fell 73 percent from 2007 to 2014, while vehicle theft was down 55 percent during the same period. Robberies and burglaries dropped 47 percent and 23 percent, respectively.
The FDLE also reported that crime was down nearly 5 percent this past year, a fact many in Lake Worth feel is often overlooked.
Commissioner Christopher McVoy said the city is safer than what’s often portrayed.
“Yes, we have some challenges, but there is nowhere in this city where I would feel uncomfortable walking,” he said. “The report uses the word ‘dangerous.’ That makes us sound like we’re the south side of Chicago where you really don’t want to walk around. We don’t have that.”
Have a Lake Worth issue you’d like to see The Post tackle, or a story idea? Contact Kevin D. Thompson at 561-820-4573 or KThompson@pbpost.com.