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Burglars working under cover of light

In addition to all the other things he does around Northdale, Bill Castens also heads his neighborhood Crime Watch.

Lately, he has noticed strangers passing through in the middle of the day. Like the young man, maybe 18 or 20, who rang the doorbell and claimed to be seeking support for a local soccer team that he wouldn't name.

It wasn't until a recent meeting with Northdale's community resource officer, Deputy Mike Russell, that Castens gave the visitors a second thought. Russell is getting out the word that daylight burglars are making their way through Northdale and Carrollwood.

"They knock on the door and if nobody answers, they go around back and break in," Russell says. "There were a couple last week. One is too many."

Some arrests have been made in cases matching that M.O. But the burglaries haven't stopped, leading officers to believe that more than one group is doing the same thing. The Sheriff's Office couldn't say exactly how many burglaries there have been.

Russell recommends that anyone who sees someone going door to door during the day should call the Sheriff's Office to report it. Midday simply is not prime time to try to make sales in a neighborhood where so many people work, he says.

"Between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. is just not normal, and it's suspicious behavior," Russell says.

His message has worried some community leaders.

"We're such a safe neighborhood, and we pay extra money to have our streets patrolled on a random basis," civic association president Nancy Stearns says. "They're coming in the daytime. That's what the scary thing is."

Castens didn't think too much of the soccer team solicitor on the day it happened, though he now wonders if the young man was casing the neighborhood for empty homes to rob. He has taken Russell's words to heart, though.

His first response got a laugh.

One day after talking to Russell, Castens saw a dark blue pickup truck parked outside a neighbor's home. He watched the driver sit there, making cell phone calls and not moving for quite some time. He went in and out of his home several times, and the truck stayed put.

So Castens called the Sheriff's Office with the license plate before going on an errand. When he returned an hour later, the truck passed him going the other way. Castens stopped by his neighbor's to let him know, and learned that the truck belonged to a general contractor doing work on the neighbor's home.

"I apologized," Castens says. "But he said, 'Don't apologize ... I'm glad you all are active.' That is what Crime Watch is all about, being a nosy neighbor."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at or (813) 269-5304.