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Date of Issue: January 13, 2010

HBPD gives Islanders "Wake-up call"

More than 100 Island residents concerned about recent burglaries filled the Holmes Beach City Hall chambers Jan. 7 for a crime prevention forum.

Holmes Beach Police Chief Jay Romine called it a “wake-up call.”

“The bottom line is this is not the same county we lived in 30 years ago,” Romine said. “It’s certainly not the same Anna Maria Island we had 30 years ago. I started here for the first time 30 years ago and in the last year it’s been incredible the changes I’ve seen in the community.”

Romine attributed the increase in automobile and residential burglaries to the economic downturn. Burglars have been targeting the Island, specifically Holmes Beach, because of its affluent neighborhoods, he said.

Romine, Detective Mike Leonard, and Lt. Dale Stephenson offered Islanders ways they can prevent burglaries, and insight on how the burglars have been operating.

Mode of operation

Romine said there’s a misconception that the burglars are selling the merchandise in order to purchase groceries.

“Eighty percent of what’s sold is directly tied to illegal narcotic use,” Romine said. “There’s been a huge increase in prescription pill abuse. It’s running rampant.”

Furthermore, he said, victims are making it easy for thieves. He said that 90 percent of automobile burglaries occur to vehicles that are left unlocked.

Romine said it’s common at night for one burglar to roam one side of a street, and another to sweep the other, looking for unlocked vehicles.

“And if they see lights coming, all they’ve got to do is go in the bushes and wait for the lights to go away, then go about their business,” Romine said.

The burglars are taking items left in clear view, such as guns, GPS units, radar detectors and laptop computers.

Romine said daytime has also been popular for burglars.

“Burglars knock on the door, and they knock some more, wait to see if a dog barks, and if no one responds they go around the back of the house to try and find a way in,” Romine said. “If someone comes to the door, they ask for someone, and if it’s not you, then it’s, ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to bother you.’”

Ways to protect yourself

Romine said residents need to lock cars, turn on their alarms, and be the eyes of the city.

“There are 10,000 eyes in Holmes Beach,” Romine said, “that are able to see things we are not. I have 14 officers in my department, counting myself.”

He said to report any suspicious activity. “I don’t know how many people say, ‘We don’t want to bother you,’” Romine said. “We’ve had numerous people come to us and say, ‘You know what? Three nights in a row I saw boats in canals with no lights on, but I saw flashlights.’ We call that suspicious. And you need to call us when you see those kinds of things.”

Other suspicious activities include strangers walking into neighbors’ backyards and people knocking on doors who claim they have the wrong residence. “If it doesn’t look right,” Romine said. “It’s probably because it’s not. And if it is, fine, we don’t mind coming to check it.”

Stephenson said that many victims have refused to prosecute suspects. “So that person didn’t get penalized for breaking into that car,” Stephenson said. “And the state is not going to prosecute because it doesn’t have a victim. People have to get involved.”

Stephenson said there are a number of programs residents can take advantage of to protect themselves from theft.

One is a house-check program that residents can sign-up for at the police department. Officers will walk around the house daily and make sure all windows are closed, and doors locked.

Another is a business trespass program. When a business is closed, and an officer sees someone on the property, the officer can give the person a trespass warning without first having to contact the business owner.

Officers already carry out a program called “Night Eyes,” in which they go around to businesses and make sure doors and windows are secure. They leave a card on the door to let the business owner know they were watching out for them.

Also, Stephenson advised neighbors to meet each other. He said he has visited neighborhoods where no one was familiar with neighbors.

Stephenson said the police department can also start a “telephone tree,” where the department puts out information that flows from one house to another.

Neighborhood watch programs also are popular, he said. “The problem with neighborhood watch is that you have to have a good group of people who want to be involved,” Stephenson said.

Stephenson added that Crime Stoppers is an under-utilized program. “But it has worked,” he said. “You can remain anonymous, and you get money from your tips if there’s an arrest and conviction.”

Residents also can have motion-sensor lights installed and keep bushes trimmed around windows.

Moreover, Stephenson said that if a resident is going to purchase a video system, they should get one with a high-resolution camera. “When we take your video to a videographer and have it enhanced, and if it’s low resolution, the more we blow it up, the more distorted it gets,” Stephenson said.

Leonard said one of the most important things people can do is record the serial numbers of electronics, and make a distinct mark on items, such as jewelry. That way, if the stolen property is recovered, it can be identified.

“We want to catch them bad,” Romine said. “There’s nothing I hate more than having something stolen from me. I’d rather have someone come and punch me in the stomach then have somebody steal something from me.”

Anyone with information about burglaries is asked to call HBPD at 941-708-5804 or Crime Stoppers at 1-866-634-8477.