Alliance Targets Apartment Security and Crime

The Sheriff's office is working with property managers to promote safety.

WESTCHASE - For Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies, there's nothing as effective as fighting crime at the source.

"If you have any questions, I'll dig for the answers," said Deputy Michelle Branscomb as she met with apartment property managers on Tuesday to discuss crime prevention.

Branscomb heads up the Apartment Alliance, part of the community resource deputy program. The meeting took place at the Tuscany Bay clubhouse, 12065 Tuscany Bay Road.

The Apartment Alliance began in February as a means of keeping track of crime in apartment complexes throughout the district and as a way to educate property managers and landlords on how to better spot and prevent criminal activity by sharing information with the sheriff's office and with one another.

Property mangers from a handful of apartment complexes attended the meeting. Detective Marc Wilder presented information about gang activity in the area. He went over symbols they should look for and told them not to underestimate suspicious persons.

"Call us," he said. "We get paid to go out and deal with this."

Wilder also stressed the importance in removing graffiti once it comes up because the signs tend to attract more gang activity.

"If you have graffiti on your cars or fences, call the sheriff's office so we can photograph and catalog it," Branscomb told the group. She then handed out the sheriff's office tip line, 1-877-GANG OUT.

Wilder stressed that suburbs and apartment complexes are havens for criminal activity, especially in the summer months. "They don't have anything to do," he said. "They're bored."

"We have at least 10 active gangs in Town 'N Country," he said. "In Hillsborough County, we have 87 active gangs, and approximately 1,300 certified gang members."

The managers asked what to look for, to which Wilder responded, "Don't try to stereotype these kids. They come from all walks of life."

Branscomb handed out photos of registered sexual offenders living in the area.

"Having meetings like this helps us put together and match up suspects," said Wilder.

Branscomb recommended the apartments perform security surveys, where a member of the county's crime prevention wing comes out to grade properties and recommend changes to decrease crime. It's a free service.

The Apartment Alliance serves Quad 4, an area roughly bordered by Racetrack and Mobley Roads to the north and west and Tampa Bay to the south. Below Hillsborough Avenue, the area extends east to Tampa International Airport. From Hillsborough to Linebaugh Avenue, Sheldon Road is the eastern border, and from Linebaugh to Gunn Highway, the Veteran's Expressway is the eastern border.

Crime figures for the area from June 2007 are down markedly from when the program began. From 43 burgled vehicles in the first 30 days of the program, the number fell to 16 in the most recent 30 days. Residential burglary reports for the same periods dropped from 33 to 18.

Branscomb said the evidence of the six-month-old program's impact is in the numbers.

"We're the only quad that is doing this and it's making a difference," she said.

The sheriff's department is looking to expand the Apartment Alliance to include all of District III and the county.

"Everybody will eventually be doing this," she said.

The Alliance is an unfunded project. Property managers volunteer use of their facilities on a rotating monthly basis.

"We just want to prevent anything from happening," said Reno Satterfield, property manager for Tuscany Bay.

Branscomb has lived and worked in Northwest Hillsborough County for 10 years. She is one of 40 deputies assigned to the community resource deputy program, acting as a liaison between the community and sheriff's office.

She credits a citizen's patrol initiative in Westchase as a model other neighborhoods can emulate. "Just by their presence on the streets they're reducing crime," she said.

The next alliance meeting is July 24 at Mallory Square Apartments, Town 'N Country.

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