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Police presence hopes to curb crime

Crime happens, no matter how nice the neighborhood, no matter how many gates it erects and no matter how many Neighborhood Crime Watch captains it appoints.

That's why Westchase, in an effort to get ahead of the game, soon will join other neighborhoods that have hired off duty sheriff's deputies for special street patrols.

"All you have to do is look at the crime statistics published in the paper," said Westchase Community Association spokeswoman Kris DiGiovanni. "It's not that we have a crime problem, but we're getting ahead of the curve to prevent it."

Homeowners should soon notice a distinct police presence on their quiet thoroughfares, cul de sacs and common areas. A resolution to that effect was passed last week by the Westchase Community Development District board, or CDD.

The CDD, using tax dollars, will hire a deputy to patrol four hours, seven days a week.

"There will be some days, some evenings, to be determined by the Sheriff's Office and the CDD working together," said DiGiovanni, who handles public relations for the community association.

The off-duty deputy will be allowed onto on private, gated streets in Westchase, which by law are off-limits to regular law enforcement patrol.

"Speeding is a primary concern," DiGiovanni said.

The CDD plans to pay for the sheriff patrols, which generally cost about $24 an hour, by eliminating a staff position. In the past, DiGiovanni said, the CDD had an employee who checked on such things as vandalism, as well as opening gates and restrooms.

"The money they save from that will allow us to fund the deputy at no cost to citizens," DiGiovanni said. "It's very creative."

Patrols, which will cover residential as well as commercial areas of Westchase, are expected to start in the next couple of months.

The decision "demonstrates forward thinking on the part of the community," DiGiovanni said. "We'll be doing it as a deterrent rather than waiting for it to happen."

_ Jackie Ripley can be reached at (813) 269-5308 or ripleysptimes.com

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