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Money, gated communities don't protect against crime

There's a Facebook page, with 106 members, called "I'm hesitant to tell people I went to Walker Middle School after last year."

You can guess at the content. But here's the part that isn't a sick joke: Parents like me, in working-class neighborhoods throughout northwest Hillsborough, fell all over ourselves to bus our children to the fancy school in the suburbs.

On days when I had to drive, we'd pass mansion after mansion on Hutchison Road.

"That's the one I want," my daughter would say. We all assumed that richer was better, superior and certainly safer.

An alleged gang rape on campus drove home an important lesson: Crime doesn't care about ZIP codes.

Having lived and covered the news in the suburbs for close to 20 years, I've been reminded of that fact more times than I can count.

You can't even keep crime out when you make the streets private. In covering an epidemic of foreclosures in New Tampa's Grand Hampton, I found criminals who got 80/20 mortgages during the free-lending years that fed the crash.

Early in my career, I led coverage of the murder of dental assistant LeAnne Coryell, who lived in an apartment near Gaither High School. In fact, that's the area where her body was discovered. At a focus group meeting, the head of the local civic association blasted the Times for saying the murder had happened "in Northdale." He was worried the publicity would hurt property values. What a prince!

Years later we covered the murder-suicide of Anna and Roy Burgess in Hunters Green and the kidnapping of car dealer Eddie Gomez in Cheval. Both times, we struggled to get behind subdivision gates so we could do our job.

The gates did not protect those victims because crime is largely personal. It is a function of one's character. And quite often it is an act between people who knew each other previously — friends, business associates or married couples.

To say that crime is an "urban" problem is naive at best. It's like pretending you can make an exception for monied neighborhoods such as Palma Ceia and Culbreath Isles. It's like presuming the renter on your block is the miscreant.

I'm curious enough to have run most of my suburban neighbors through the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office's arrest records. And let me tell you, I get plenty of hits. One of my more notorious neighbors not only owns his home, but has the prettiest lawn on the block.

It worries me, as a soccer coach, when parents drop their little ones off and then run to the supermarket during practice. They shouldn't. Or they should have another parent keep an eye on their child.

Time and time again, law enforcement officials say they have two enemies in the suburbs: Anonymity among neighbors and a false sense of security.

If I had a dime for every deputy who told our reporters that suburbanites need to keep their garage doors locked, I'd have enough money to move into one of those gated communities.

And I'd still do background checks on my neighbors.

Marlene Sokol can be reached at sokol@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4602.

Money, gated communities don't protect against crime 04/08/10 [Last modified: Thursday, April 8, 2010 2:35pm]
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