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Savvy neighbors team up to fight crime

TAMPA PALMS — The letter, like its writer, was disarmingly friendly while impressively efficient.

Dear Sanctuary neighbors: Let me tell you about this recent burglary. … And this one. One was just for money. Another involved jewelry and a laptop. …

Detail-packed, in the style of Tampa Palms Community Development District consultant Maggie Wilson, the letter then warned of a violent string of home invasions.

Police are urging residents to check to see who is knocking before opening any door and to report any suspicious individuals to the police, she wrote.

Speaking Tuesday, Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis said a Pebble Creek teen was arrested in the Tremont burglary, in which the intruders appear to have climbed through a bedroom window.

They're still working that case and others, including a garage-door entry in the Enclave. At a news conference last Friday, they announced three arrests in the home invasions.

As if all of these were not enough, firefighters recently helped bust a couple who police say were stealing from cars at Tampa Palms fitness centers.

"It's a shame,'' says Gene Field, chairman of the taxing district board. "It doesn't seem like it ought to happen, but it does.''

Officials walk a fine line when they warn residents of this famously safe community to lock their garage doors and stop stashing laptops in their cars.

Good advice. But to what extent do the warnings make this place a target? Nobody knows.

A quick look through North of Tampa crime reports showed that the greatest number of police calls are to condominium and apartment complexes along Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, Amberly Drive and Burchette Road.

Some are for domestic disputes and drug crimes; others are for property crimes in high-traffic areas where criminals presume they won't be spotted.

Still, what drives police crazy is what Davis calls crimes of opportunity.

"Two weeks ago, we had three burglaries in one week alone, all with their garage doors open,'' she said.

Critics, some of whom posted to our reports on Bruce B. Blog, call this a blame-the-victim mentality.

But it's not without merit.

Field recalls a spate of burglaries about 15 months ago in his village, Asbury. "What was happening was, people were not using their alarm system,'' he realized after surveying his neighbors.

Residents met, and police representatives advised them, both collectively and individually, on how to shore up their homes.

Wilson also has become more careful. "A month ago there was a burglary in my own gated community,'' she said.

She won't call the past month's events a crime wave. "They just came in a group,'' she says.

By getting input from police and security firms, homeowners are becoming more savvy.

They're learning, for example, to be extra careful after a home repair job. You might trust your contractor, but what about his subcontractors?

Sliding glass doors can be vulnerable. It can't hurt to have yours looked at for auxiliary locks.

Some homeowners, when traveling, will even give a neighbor temporary power of attorney in case the house is burglarized and someone has to press charges.

That might seem extreme, especially when a lot of people can help themselves by doing the obvious: Shut your garage door, keep the outside lights on, lock your car and bring the valuable stuff inside.

I asked Wilson whether there was panic in Tampa Palms.

"I don't sense it,'' she replied. "People are just being a little more cautious.''

Savvy neighbors team up to fight crime 06/26/08 [Last modified: Friday, June 27, 2008 10:43am]
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