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St. Petersburg's crime prevention program gets help

ST. PETERSBURG — Officer Johnny Harris will no longer have to go it alone.

For years, Harris was the sole crime prevention officer in the city's three police districts, organizing crime watch groups, giving presentations on how to stop the bad guys and visiting homes to give security advice.

By the end of June, Harris will be joined by two new crime prevention officers. Each will provide the service for one police district.

But these won't be new hires; the police department will recruit the new officers from its current ranks, which, with recent hires, is at full strength, said police spokesman Bill Proffitt.

In adding the specialized officers, the department is going back to the roots of the crime prevention program, which was incorporated into the agency in 1982.

At the height of the program, there were two crime prevention officers per district. The theory of crime prevention, in which residents become aware of and take measures to thwart crime, was flourishing back then; in 1980, the National Crime Prevention Council unfurled its mascot, the bloodhound McGruff the Crime Dog.

Budget cuts in the early '90s eliminated those positions, said William G. Doniel, a retired division chief who first organized the crime watch program. Harris has held the single post since 2002.

In the last year, with the worsening economy and heightened concerns about crime, there has been an increased participation in neighborhood crime watch, Harris said.

"If people expect the police department to do it all, it's not going to work," said Harris. "The citizens must help."

Jeff Frank, public safety chairman for the St. Petersburg Council of Neighborhood Associations, praised the addition of the new officers.

"A lot of the neighborhoods are getting a renewed interest in crime watch," said Frank, who lives in the Live Oaks neighborhood. "And I think with the two new officers coming along, it will make the program better."

Luis Perez can be reached at (727) 892-2271 or lperez@sptimes.com.

St. Petersburg's crime prevention program gets help 05/30/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 30, 2009 4:30am]
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