By Angie Francalancia
The burglars use rental cars, rented in someone else’s name. They often come up from Broward County, and have the cars’ windows tinted extra dark. Their target: Boca Raton.
But after seeing home and auto burglaries spike in the spring, Boca Raton police devised a plan called “Operation Neighborhood Watch,” which included the Police Department’s adding extra patrols, undercover assignments and daily briefings. And it included a small army of additional crime fighters — the residents.
“The result has been an increase in arrests, not only for burglaries but for loitering and prowling,” said Mark Economou, spokesman for the Police Services Department. “It’s somewhat of an organized crime ring. The guys all know each other, pass information on, and work the areas right off the I-95 corridor,” he said. “Since that crackdown, have we seen residential burglaries stop? No. But we have seen a significant drop.”
The spike occurred in March and April when the number of burglaries jumped over the same period the year before by more than 100 percent. The numbers have eased since then.
In the nearly six months between Jan. 1 and June 19 when the last report was run, Boca Raton has had 203 burglaries reported. During the same period last year, it was 141, a 44 percent increase, Economou said.
As the year continues, he expects the department’s efforts will whittle away at that increase, he said.
Police have arrested almost the same number of loiterers and prowlers in the first six months – 18 – as they did in the whole of 2011 – 21. They believe that has helped reduce the burglaries, Economou said. But one of the biggest factors has been the residents in Boca Raton’s Citizens Crime Watch. They work under an umbrella volunteer organization that helps distribute crime information and publishes a quarterly newsletter. When their June newsletter revealed the spike in burglaries, the residents went on alert.
Several recent arrests involved neighbors alerting police, including the arrests of two teens trying to break into a car on June 25, and another arrest of an individual for burglary of a dwelling and grand theft on June 21. In the first couple weeks of “Operation Neighborhood Watch,” which began May 1, police made more than a dozen arrests.
Boca Raton Police Chief Dan Alexander credits their efforts with helping the department make several arrests. “The recent cases demonstrate that neighbors are paying attention and calling us when they see something suspicious,” he said.
Economou said officers would prefer finding a false alarm over the residents not calling. “We started using the website, social media and the neighborhood alert email system,” he said.
“We’re out there, but we can’t see everything. We’ve had incredible response. A whole bunch of arrests came in response to residents.”