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Ex-FBI agent has eyes, ears on crime

Making a living in Bloomingdale has never been easy for burglars andother miscreants. Now it's going to be a lot tougher.

Former FBI agent Ray Serrano has come to town. And he's heading up the Neighborhood Watch program.

Serrano, with the help of the Bloomingdale Homeowners Association is working to coordinate the community of almost 3,000 homes. The program, which is part of a national system, is unusual because it is designed to go hand-in-hand with an existing local mobile watch program.

About two months ago, a couple of neighborhood kids were beaten up by older kids. Their skateboards were stolen.

Hardly a major crime, but it was big enough to make this ex-federal agent angry.

"There's no reason for stuff like that to happen here," Serrano said. "I said to myself, 'This has got to stop.' " Serrano decided it was time to mobilize the neighborhood.

"Basically, we're taking it from ground zero," he said. "We're setting it up like a military chain of command."

Using a computer, Serrano and other volunteers are dividing the

subdivisions into sections of about 100 homes each. A block captain is to head each section.

If a resident sees someone behaving suspiciously or feels children should be brought inside, he or she would call the block captain. The captain would contact two or three people, who would contact two or three more, and so on.

"Everyone takes care of each other and watches out for each other," Serrano said.

There was an original Neighborhood Watch program in the early 1980s when Bloomingdale was built, Serrano said. It became inactive several years ago, largely because of a turnover of volunteers.

The local mobile watch program, which has been in existence for several years, consists of nearly 200 volunteers who patrol the neighborhoods in their radio-equipped cars. If anything suspicious is noticed, the driver radios a home base. In turn, the home base will call the Sheriff's Office.

The combination of the Neighborhood Watch program and the mobile watch program should reduce area crime, said Susan DeLuca of the homeowner's association.

"What we have now is mostly vandalism, smashed mailboxes, that sort of thing," DeLuca said. "A strong watch program with good neighborhood participation should really curb these problems."

Members of the homeowners association recently met with sheriff's Col. Cal Henderson to discuss their watch programs.

"I was very impressed with what I saw," Henderson said. "We have Neighborhood Watch programs throughout the county, but the way they run the two programs together seems very effective."

Bloomingdale has the second lowest crime rate in the county, according to Sheriff's Office statistics. Sun City Center, which also has a mobile watch program, has the lowest.

Serrano moved here with his family about six months ago from Stamford, Conn., where he had lived most of his life. He worked for two years as a fingerprint analyst for the FBI in the Washington, D.C., area in the early 1970s. He now designs and sells home security systems for Sonitrol Security.

Serrano expects to have the program up and running by May.

"We want to make this the best place to live possible. The bottom line is to get people aware - to get people to look out for their neighbors."