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Businesses get crime watch help

Tampa police will assign four new patrol officers to work in New Tampa next year and train one of them to oversee an organized business crime watch program.

Police hope the effort will help shore up New Tampa's newly formed crime watch along the lines of the Westshore Alliance, a consortium of businesses with the city's largest crime watch program.

The move comes two weeks after New Tampa's largest neighborhood association expressed frustration with its own yearlong effort at a grass roots crime watch with police help.

"(Crime watch) is not just signs and stickers on the door," said Capt. Jake Slater, a community affairs officer with Tampa Police. "We need more communication up there."

That's a big change from what police originally told the New Tampa Community Council at its Oct. 25 meeting in Hunter's Green.

When the topic surfaced, Todd Wiener, the council's crime watch organizer and an area dentist, lamented that he had encountered some apathy from businesses when he initially tried to organize an emergency telephone chain. He also expressed frustration about the number of hours he needed to manage the effort.

Wiener asked Slater at the meeting if Tampa police could assign an officer to facilitate communication, as they do in Westshore.

At the time, Slater said he did not think Tampa could spare extra officers to manage the business watch, especially in this nationwide state of emergency.

But he promised to look into it and, reflecting on New Tampa's growth, he made a request to Chief Bennie Holder that was approved Thursday.

"New Tampa is metropolitan and needs it," said Slater.

Also at the New Tampa meeting was Bob Seth, a retired police officer who now holds an appointed position as the city's security coordinator. Seth told New Tampa that the grass roots business watch does not work. He said owners are too busy and it's better handled by professionals.

"We are trying to get a business watch started in that area," he said. "I just explained to them the problems we had at Westshore and how we overcame them."

Seth, a civilian who is currently collecting his police pension, is paid $57,000 a year by the city to serve as a liaison between Tampa police and the Westshore business district. He works directly with Officer Roy Paz, also assigned to Westshore.

The nonprofit Westshore Alliance represents more that 300 of the nearly 4,000 businesses in the district. Members have two-way radios that can be tuned to the same frequency with other businesses and the two officers. Crimes can be announced directly over the radios.

"We have a feeling criminals know we are really protected here," said Terri Fox, a spokesperson for the Westshore Alliance. "It's a positive thing we do for the community and I can understand why other people want to do it."

Wiener is unsure whether New Tampa businesses could afford the radios, which cost about $50 a month. But Wiener, who has stretched his own time to organize the crime watch, will likely welcome the extra help.

"The concept was that in order to have a system that perpetuates itself, you really need a manager to look after the whole system," he said. "Preferably, this person might be an employee of the police department."

The new officers will be included in the 2002 budget and will be assigned to Squads 73 and 53, New Tampa's two patrol divisions.

Deputy Chief John Bushell said Seth will split his time between Westshore and New Tampa, where he will train one of the officers until they understand the concept.

"He's going to train one of them so they can take over," said Bushell, "and then he'll go back to Westshore."

_ Michael Sandler can be reached at (813) 226-3472 or sandlersptimes.com.

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