PALM RIVER — In a pilot program called the first of its kind in Hillsborough County, law enforcement officials are tapping local resources to help reduce crime rates in Palm River.
Residents: Start snitching.
"We want to use you guys as our human intelligence," Hillsborough County Sheriff's Deputy Benjamin Kenney told about 40 longtime residents at a community meeting Tuesday. "Y'all know. Y'all grew up with these people."
The intelligence-led policing model takes tips from residents who often know more about their neighborhood than law enforcement does, said Kenney, who has been the area's community resource deputy for two years.
Through a community liaison, residents can help the Sheriff's Office develop a local suspect's profile or notify deputies of possible perpetrators. I know that guy! Palm River residents may say. I saw him!
It's a more effective way, Kenney said, of preventing crimes such as burglaries and drug-dealing — rather than calling in law enforcement after offenses have occurred.
Residents responded excitedly to the pilot program, seeing it as an extension of the crime watches they have started in their neighborhoods.
"I love it, I love it, I love it," said 44-year-old Rosemary Isom, block captain of the Delaney Creek crime watch. "You got to ask the people."
The community liaison idea will incorporate some type of anonymous reporting to protect residents from fear of retribution.
"We're hoping the members of our community step up to the plate," said 48-year-old Palm River resident and meeting organizer David Moore, "and take advantage of this opportunity to fix some quality-of-life issues that we have here."
The Greater Palm River community plan, developed by residents and county officials in 2008, targeted crime as one of the biggest neighborhood concerns.
Since then, residents have started poking their heads out to question drivers of unfamiliar cars parked on their streets. They ask neighbors to keep the noise down and maintain their properties.
They mow lawns of empty houses and call the Sheriff's Office to break up parties or check on suspicious activity.
The Sheriff's Office also has doubled the number of cars patrolling Palm River, said District 2 Maj. Clyde Eisenberg, who attended the Tuesday meeting at the Winston Park Recreation Center. He cited statistics analyzing six-month periods that show crimes such as murder, rape, aggravated assaults and burglaries have decreased in Palm River by 24 percent since 2009.
Residents and law enforcement both attribute the decline in crime to locals taking ownership of their neighborhoods.
"We shouldn't have to live in filth," said Ola Lott, 68, who spearheaded the crime watch in Green Ridge. "I'm not well-liked where I live, but I don't care."
Residents shared crime-watch stories, chuckling over more than one example of their influence. Among them: A man stopped an unfamiliar car, interrogating its driver on his intentions. I know the neighborhood, the man told the driver, and you don't belong here.
The man let up only when the undercover detective showed his badge.
Meeting organizers pointedly noted the absence Tuesday of county commissioners or their staffs, who were formally invited to the meeting. But that, Lott said, isn't stopping the community from changing the perception of danger so commonly associated with Palm River.
"We need to do something," she said. "Let's do it, and stop making excuses."
Stephanie Wang can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2443.