LITHIA — When Brian Kochik and his family moved to FishHawk in 2006, he thought, "This is going to be as safe a neighborhood as I can find."
The homes and schools were new, the lawns neatly mowed. The winding streets were far from Tampa's urban core.
But then a wave of break-ins hit the neighborhood. Thieves smashed the windows of some cars parked at the new Youth Sports Association complex. In January, four suspected gang members attacked two boys and two girls on a FishHawk trail. The attack shocked Kochik, 37, and many others in the community.
"The perception is you'll be safer here," he said. "But as many people find out, crime can happen anywhere."
Last week, Kochik joined about 20 other FishHawk residents at a Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office meeting aimed at starting a Volunteer Citizen Patrol program in FishHawk.
The Sheriff's Office launched the program in 2007 to provide backup to overwhelmed deputies. So far, it's active in Brandon, Bloomingdale, Apollo Beach, Westchase and Town 'N Country.
"We can't do it alone," said Sgt. Carlos Somellan, who lives in FishHawk.
He said that since Apollo Beach formed its Citizen Patrol program in 2007, crime has gone down 30 percent.
"It's not about being stronger, smarter, faster," he said. "It's about being where the bad guys are."
Although there has been a recent spate of problems, FishHawk definitely isn't crime-ridden, Somellan told the group. Still, there's room to make the area a little bit safer, he said.
Volunteers don't have weapons or arrest powers, but they have a radio and can call in backup quickly. And sometimes just the sight of the specially marked Sheriff's Office car helps, Somellan said.
Volunteers, who patrol in groups of two, can also direct traffic, assist disabled vehicles and more, freeing up deputies to patrol.
"Isn't that where you want them to be?" asked Deputy Lorraine Jordan, who coordinated the Citizen's Patrol. "Out there fighting crime?"
Several in the room nodded.
Jordan shared FishHawk crime statistics from the first six months of 2009. There were 54 residential burglaries, 38 vehicle burglaries, 51 suspicious vehicles reported and 38 suspicious people reported.
"To me, one is too many in my community," she said.
According to Sheriff's Office records, there were 21 cases of aggravated assault, 19 cases of vehicle theft and 77 reported burglaries in 2008.
Last year, after the Youth Sports Association complex opened, thieves broke into vehicles during games. If the FishHawk patrol group forms, volunteers would monitor the parking lot during sporting events in the upcoming season, Jordan said.
The gang attack happened on the trails behind the gated neighborhoods. Jordan said she hopes to eventually start a volunteer bicycle patrol to monitor the trails.
The Sheriff's Office will provide training and kick off the FishHawk program if at least 15 people apply. Kochik said he plans to join.
"I'm interested in doing what I can to make sure the neighborhood is safe for my family," he said.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2443.