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Program may stop late-night car thefts

Dot Paysen and her husband never drive their car late at night. Now they are confident that no one else will, either. Mrs. Paysen and four other car owners from the Citizens of Davis Islands Neighborhood Watch Program joined the Combat Auto Theft (CAT) program Wednesday at a press conference at Davis Islands, said Tampa police Deputy Chief Tom DePolis.

Under the law, police officers can't stop the Paysens' 1984 Ford simply because the person behind the wheel might look odd.

But sign a waiver, slap a yellow sticker on the rear windshield and that car will be stopped any time it hits the street between 1 and 5 a.m., DePolis said.

"The program's designed to get around the probable-cause issue," he said.

It is not the right program for everyone. If you sometimes get the urge for an early morning pizza or have teen-agers who stay out late, don't sign up, police say.

Tampa residents who do apply for the decal are warned that post-midnight jaunts in their own car could get them stopped. Sign for the sticker and in the early morning hours you will be waiving your rights. The registration form advises: "If you're stopped in your car, remain calm and do not make any sudden moves. Place your hands on the steering wheel . . ."

The program is perfect for the Paysens, who seldom drive at night. "We are an elderly couple, and we have an open carport. With the sticker on, it gives police a chance to pick up the car at night," Mrs. Paysen said.

The American Civil Liberties Union does not object to the program as long as car owners understand they are signing away their rights, said Robyn Blumner, executive director of ACLU of Florida.

The CAT program started in New York in 1986. Pinellas County Sheriff Everett Rice has asked his county commission to approve the program. An ordinance has not been passed, spokesman Lt. Rick Wilfong said.

In Fort Myers, where the program began in January, more than 1,000 car owners have joined and no one has lost a car, Fort Myers Police Sgt. Dan Jerz said.

"There have been instances where several cars in a row at a parking lot have been burglarized, and they skipped over the one with the CAT sticker," Jerz said. "I don't know if that's coincidence, but it sounds good."

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