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Crime rates factor in home buyer selection

Potential buyers use Web sites in search for statistics. Communities point to success of crime watch programs.

By JANET ZINK
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 17, 2002


Thieves stole Anne Scott's van from the driveway of her Seminole Heights home four years ago.

Now, she doesn't worry about losing her van, after moving to Northdalelast summer with her husband, Richard, and two young daughters.

"The primary reason we wanted to move was the public schools, but I found that the crime in my old neighborhood was much higher than it is here," Scott says.

She compared the crime rates of the two neighborhoods on the Web site Realtor.com, and what she discovered mades it easier for her to sleep at night.

"I walk the dogs at night, and I don't feel uncomfortable walking in the neighborhood after dark. I did in my old neighborhood," she says. "It's a plus, and it was something I considered because I wanted the kids to be able to ride their bikes to their friends' houses without being hit by a car or hassled by someone who had ill-intent."

Scott is not alone in considering crime when looking to purchase a home. Real estate agents say home buyers often ask them about crime rates in neighborhoods they're considering.

"I tell buyers -- if they ask me, 'Is it safe here?' -- I'll say it's like any neighborhood you live in anywhere. If you leave yourself open to crime you're more likely to have a problem," says Linda Hallgren, a real estate agent with Smith and Associates.

If a crime is a major concern, she says, don't rely on your perception of a neighborhood.

Do some research.

"I just had a buyer check the crime stats of the neighborhood we were looking at because her perception was that it was maybe not the most comfortable for her," Hallgren says. "She pulled up the crime stats and was very pleased."

In addition to Realtor.com, the Tampa police department posts crime statistics for the city's neighborhoods on their Web site. Hunter's Green, in New Tampa, is one of Tampa's safest neighborhoods.

Carol Poland, who has been running the Hunter's Green neighborhood watch program for nine years, thinks she knows why.

"Number one is because of the guards. It's a gated community. Number two is because we have a doggone good, active crime watch program," Poland says. "We're really watching out for each other in here."

Poland organizes two major crime watch events each year. More than 1,000 residents turned out for the Health and Safety Expo in March, and on August 6, the community will participate in the National Night Out Against Crime. In the past, more than 1,000 people participated.

The Hunter's Green program has won numerous awards. Last year, it was one of four programs nationwide to receive an All-Star Award for its Night Out Against Crime event.

The community has developed a close relationship with the police officers stationed at the nearby firehouse through Tampa's Firehouse Community Officer Program.

Launched in 1996, the Firehouse COP program assigns officers to the city's 21 firehouses.

"They work with the community all the time. They go to our meetings. They go to our watch programs," Poland says.

On a recent Sunday evening, three Tampa police officers mingled with 45 Hunter's Green residents.

"The police love it and the people love it," Poland says. "The idea is for them to get to know us and us to get know them.

"And up here, it's worked very well."

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