ST. PETERSBURG — Crime is up across the city. Property crimes are up even higher. The first half of 2009 saw a 10 percent leap in reported burglaries, larcenies and auto thefts, according to police statistics.
Mayor Rick Baker became the city's latest statistic on Thursday.
That's when the mayor's Old Northeast home was burglarized in broad daylight, according to St. Petersburg police, a fact the mayor discovered himself when he pulled into his driveway about 12:20 p.m.
The burglars were in the house when Baker arrived, but ran out the back carrying electronics and escaped in a green Ford Thunderbird parked in the alley behind the mayor's 25th Avenue N home.
But they didn't get far. The mayor memorized their license plate, which is how undercover detectives found the two suspects at 5:15 p.m. Thursday.
Rising crime has been the talk of the campaign trail for those vying to replace the mayor. But now that he's a victim, Baker said his perspective hasn't changed.
"I feel anger for anyone that's a victim of any criminal act," he said.
The Baker home was unoccupied at the time. The home has an alarm system, but it was off.
Earlier in the day, the mayor and his family were at the TASCO Extreme Mud Wars, a youth program for teens, at Spa Beach. The mayor was returning home to shower and change.
"I saw that my window was broken and the door looked like it was busted," Baker said. "I assumed someone was in my house."
The mayor also spotted the green car parked in the alley. Then he went to a neighbor's house but he didn't call 911. The mayor reported the break-in directly to police Chief Chuck Harmon. Meanwhile the two suspects took off out the back door.
Soon the mayor's 4,800-square-foot colonial-style house with the white picket fence was surrounded by police cruisers. One was parked in the alley, one in the driveway and one in front of the house. Two undercover vehicles and a crime scene van were also out front.
Police spokesman Bill Proffitt said that's not an unusual response to a crime that has just occurred, when suspects may still be in the area.
But what was unusual was that the district commander, a major, and the shift commander, a lieutenant, were also on scene. Proffitt was there, too, but then, someone had to talk to all the TV crews.
Police identified the two suspects as: Devin Boykins, 19, arrested on a charge of driving without a valid license; and Donnell Wilson, 20, arrested on a charge of possession of morphine. There was not enough evidence late Thursday to arrest them in connection with the mayor's burglary, police said, but the investigation is continuing. Police did not disclose what was taken from the mayor's home.
An empty home targeted during daylight is typical of most of the city's break-ins. "That's why we stress to people to make their homes look occupied during the day," Proffitt said.
Harmon said more officers have been assigned to the property crime problem.
"I think in the area of crime, you always have to redouble your efforts," Baker said. "I believe the chief and the Police Department have been doing that."
Baker, though, was already having a bad day even before the break-in. He broke his hand bracing himself for a fall during the mud obstacle course at the event he attended. Surgery on his right hand is set for 7 a.m. today.
"It's been a day," he said.
Jamal Thalji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8472.