FT. LAUDERDALE (CBS4) — Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel says crime is down significantly over this time last year. The sheriff tells CBS4 that his agency is on track to have the fewest offenses since 2004.

Sheriff Israel said he believes the drop is due to a combination of more targeted law enforcement, more proactive prevention methods and cooperation from the community.

“We want to reduce crime as much as humanly possible,” he told CBS 4’s Carey Codd. “We want to make this county as safe as possible and in the first 6 months of my administration, we took giant steps forward.”

In the communities BSO serves, the agency says violent crime is down 12.3 percent over this time last year and property crimes are down 8.6 percent over the same time period. Israel says a gun buyback program has taken more than 300 guns off the streets. He also says a new program called VIPER — that is aimed at targeting violent criminals — is making a big impact on the crime rate.

Speaking about the VIPER Unit Israel said, “They’ve made 317 arrests in the four and a half months since I started the unit and in those 317 arrests they’ve confiscated 35 firearms.”

Israel also told a crowd at the Education Not Incarceration Community Forum at the Mount Bethel Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale Thursday night that he believes another initiative will also play a role in reducing crime.

Israel and leaders from the Broward County School District and the Broward County Judicial System want to see fewer students locked up.

Organizers of the event say that more students are arrested in Broward County Schools than any other public school system in the state.

Israel says his goal is to use the civil citation program to put students who are first time misdemeanor offenders into a diversion program to get them help instead of arrested.

“Our goal is to keep kids out of jail, not put kids in jail,” he said.

Many in the crowd think the plan is a first step towards helping troubled young people get on the right track.

“This one indiscretion can stain their record for the rest of their lives and this one act of diverting them could keep them in line, successful and have the ability to work and be productive,” said parent and school mentor David Rosa.

Sheriff Israel said that he and the leadership at BSO know that despite the recent drop in crime their work is not done. He said he sees this as a strong foundation on which to build.

“To rest and accept the status quo is a call to inaction,” he said.