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Residents fighting criminals creatively

From cameras to crime maps, neighborhoods are being more vigilant.

By CRISTINA SILVA, Times Staff Writer
Published October 14, 2007


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St. Petersburg- Fed up with the city's growing crime rate, residents across St. Petersburg are taking matters into their own hands and employing creative measures to increase safety awareness and hunt down criminals.

In Central Oak Park, residents track crime on a big map during neighborhood meetings.

In North Kenwood, homeowners set up a video camera to capture vandals and bandits in the act.

In Bartlett Park, the crime watch group sent out pictures of eight victims of unsolved murders in a community newsletter this month in an attempt to push anyone with knowledge of the crimes into contacting police.

Residents said they are motivated by a perceived increase in vandalism and robbery, as well as the city's growing murder rate. So far, there have been 23 homicides in St. Petersburg this year. Last year, there were 21.

"This is our reality," said Scott Swift, vice president of the Bartlett Park Neighborhood Crime Watch. "People are concerned that things are not going to get better."

At a community crime watch meeting Tuesday night, police Chief Chuck Harmon urged residents to actively fight crime in their neighborhoods by paying attention to unusual activity and looking for criminals.

"We still need your help; don't give up," he said. "As long as they are out doing bad things, we will be out there arresting them."

The meeting marked the first time in two years that Harmon has met with neighborhood crime watch leaders citywide. Police officials said they wanted to schedule more regular meetings to promote communication between various crime watch groups.

The call for more community involvement comes less than a year after Harmon announced he would transfer the city's 41 community police officers to other jobs.

The department set up three community service lines for residents to call with nonemergency crime issues, such as complaints about barking dogs or persistent noise.

No one has complained about the new system so far, said department spokesman Bill Proffitt.

At times, Tuesday's crime watch meeting had the air of a block party. Pizza and chocolate chip cookies were laid out on a table. Attendees were given raffle tickets, and some were awarded free baseball caps and mugs.

When asked whether anyone had any questions for Harmon, no one in the audience of 80 residents raised their hand.

But afterward, residents said they are concerned about the lack of police officers in their community.

"I would love to have our community police officers back," said Nina Light, coordinator of the Allendale Crime Watch. "When I first moved here 20 years ago, you would see the police down the street all the time. Now when you want a police officer you have to call. And they say, 'Oh there is a lot less crime.' I think that's bull."

Light said she was surprised that Harmon did not bring up the city's homicide rate, but she didn't want to be the one to bring it up.

"I take it all with a grain of salt now," she said.

Cristina Silva can be reached at 727 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.

[Last modified October 13, 2007, 22:48:02]


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