-Karen Chassin

Neighborhood Watch is one of the oldest and most effective crime prevention programs in the nation. Formally adopted by the National Sheriffs’ Association after its successful debut in Los Angeles in the 1960s, the program is well-established in Pinellas County. There are more than 100 established volunteer watch programs from Tierra Verde to Tarpon Springs, working in partnership with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. 

A Neighborhood Watch Group to cover the west side of the Lealman community would be a great addition to the existing Watch network. What’s required are three volunteers to serve as chairperson, co-chairperson, and communications lead. The Sheriff’s Office Crime Prevention and Community Awareness Unit (727-582-2222) can talk to you about what’s involved and how to get started. 

But as important as volunteer leadership may be, the best crime prevention asset is an informed and engaged neighborhood where residents understand their role in community safety and crime prevention. 

Sergeant Dan DiFrancesco of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office and his colleagues have trained thousands of Pinellas County residents on how to be better observers of their surroundings and identify the earmarks of crime. 

He recently shared some valuable information with the Lealman Voice on how Neighborhood Watch works — and debunked some misconceptions about the program. 

“First and foremost, there’s no active patrolling or putting yourself in harm’s way. We want your eyes and ears on the community while you go about your normal daily activities,” said Sgt DiFrancesco. “We say ‘contact not confront,’ meaning, report suspicious activity, don’t take matters into your own hands.”

People want to help but often have question about how. What does a burglar look like? How do you define suspicious activity? What are the signs of drug or human trafficking? 

Sgt. DiFrancesco’s rule of thumb: “Judge situations and people by actions and patterns, not appearances,” he said. Race, gender, or age are not red flags, but behavior patterns may be. 

“Do you see someone going from car to car and peering into windows? Say something. Is there an unusually high level of activity at a residence or location that stands out? Follow your instincts and report it.” It’s ‘see something, say something’ — then let the experts follow up. 

Sgt. DiFrancesco and his colleagues are available for community presentations and trainings on Neighborhood Watch strategies or to share trends and issues with crime in your area. Residents can also view crime reports from your neighborhood anytime or receive regular email updates via the Pinellas County Crime Viewer

Want to report something suspicious in your area? Here’s how. 

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