Influx of hurricane evacuees not influencing crime rates, authorities say

3 arrested in Kissimmee murder-for-hire plot recently moved to area

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. – Osceola County authorities say that the influx of people relocating to the area after Hurricane Maria are not affecting crime rates, but the numbers reflect the overall growth of the county.

Osceola County Sheriff Russ Gibson informed the public Friday about the murder of 47-year-old Janice Zengotita-Torres, who was killed after detectives say she was mistaken for the wrong person in a botched murder-for-hire plot.  

Her accused killers recently moved to the Orlando area from Puerto Rico. Their victim had moved to the Kissimmee area with her husband and son last year from the U.S. territory.

"I love people and I welcome the men and women from Puerto Rico," Gibson said. "The American citizens, brothers and sisters, but at the same time we have to treat people with respect, dignity and kindness."

Osceola County, Kissimmee specifically, has experienced a large influx of Hurricane Maria evacuees.

In December, more than 2,000 new students were enrolled in the Osceola County Public school system.

Gibson noted the addition of Puerto Rican residents in the area Friday but Osceola County Maj. Jacob Ruiz said last week's homicide and evacuees don't have a connection to crime changes in the area.

"The fact that an extra amount of people have come over from Puerto Rico or wherever because of situations where they lived has not really caused any spike in crime in the county that we see," Ruiz said.

According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's semiannual report from January to June of 2017 there were six homicides. The previous year there were three.

From January to June 2017, there were 32 robberies compared with a total of 72 in 2016.

Ruiz said that Osceola County is growing quickly, but not just because of evacuees.

"Those are numbers pre-Hurricane Maria. Pre-hurricane season," Ruiz said. "Those are up to June of 2017 so that tells you right there that the increase in crime, the increase of calls to public safety agencies has nothing to do with, you know, Puerto Ricans or any other group of people. It's just that we are growing. We are growing at a massive rate."