By Robbyn Mitchell and Kameel Stanley, Times Staff Writers
Published Wednesday, June 3, 2009
TAMPA — As the students pour out of the those hallowed halls today for the last time this school year, local law enforcement will be gearing up to deal with increases in the petty crimes summer vacation brings.
"We see a jump in auto thefts and auto burglaries during the summer months," said Andrea Davis, a spokeswoman for the Tampa Police Department.
Last year, the number of Tampa vehicle larcenies and auto burglaries jumped from 268 in April to 318 in June.
But those numbers are down from previous years, Davis explained, largely in part to summer enforcement operations targeted at these crimes.
School resource officers, who often spend nine months of quality time getting to know high school and middle school students, including the troublemakers, are reassigned to patrol beats in the areas surrounding their schools and in areas where the opportunity for petty crime is high, such as shopping plazas and malls, Davis said.
"Every extra resource we have is basically put into area like the mall," she said. "A lot of the (school resource officers) do undercover operations during the summer."
The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office similarly redeploys its school resource deputies during the summer months, said J.D. Callaway, a sheriff's spokesman.
"We send them into neighborhoods near their schools to make contact with the community," Callaway said. "They complete checks on juvenile offenders to make sure they are adhering to their probation and are in before curfew."
In Pinellas, most agencies expect to see more of minor crimes such as auto burglaries, business burglaries and vandalism whenever they kids are out of school, said Marianne Pasha, a spokeswoman for the Pinellas County Sheriff's office.
"There's more of a heightened awareness, so you're looking for it more," Pasha said. "It's historic enough that they (deputies) pretty much know what to expect."
Pasha said in addition to being more aware, the department also uses its school resource officers to keep their ear to the ground, and the Police Athletic League (PAL program) to keep kids involved.
But all three agencies say increased enforcement won't solve the problem.
Most auto burglaries, thefts and even shoplifting, which has a minor spike in summer months, are crimes of opportunity, Pasha said. Leaving doors unlocked and valuable items in plain view make some vehicles easy targets.
A newer trend, Davis said, is people storing their Global Positioning Systems and iPods in consoles and glove compartments but leaving the mounts on the dash board or vents.
"If they can see that, then they know you have the devices, and most people don't walk around with their GPS in their pocket."
Callaway said everyone should always park in well-lit areas if possible, store all valuables and accessories out of sight and lock the vehicle doors.
"Don't make it easy for a thief," he cautioned.
Kameel Stanley contributed to this report. Robbyn Mitchell can be reached at (813) 226-3373 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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