By Angie Francalancia
It started this summer with a string of annoying vandalisms to cars. Over Labor Day weekend, a neighbor was cleaned out in what police described as a professional burglary. In October, a neighbor scared off a would-be robber who had entered his home.
Then last month, the neighbors in Delray Beach’s Seagate area got another shock — another home burglarized in the middle of the day in a neighborhood where lots of residents are home.
Residents in this quiet neighborhood between the Intracoastal Waterway and the ocean were used to leaving their cars unlocked and walking the streets of the ungated community unconcerned about crime. Now, they’re talking about starting a crime watch program.
“Everybody’s getting really nervous around here,” said Kathy Baffer, president of the neighborhood’s homeowners association. “We have two small children. I never used to put the alarm on except at night. Now I put it on every time I leave the house — even when I run up the street to pick up the kids.”
Baffer said she’s never remembered a time when there have been so many incidents in Seagate.
“I sent out an email to all the neighbors telling them I wanted to possibly start a crime watch. A lot of people like the idea. I’ve been here for 13 years, and it’s never been like this. The one that just happened was in the morning — a Saturday morning, and the other was between 3 and 5 in daytime. We’re really just trying to keep everybody safe.”
Seagate may not be the only community seeing a spike in crime. JoAnn Peart, captain of the Lake Ida Citizen Observer Patrol, said she’s heard of several communities getting hit recently.
“I’ve heard of some incidents in the marina district on the west side of the Intracoastal, and Palm Trail has had some problems,” Peart said.
“A few years ago, we had a lot of problems here. People were going through in the middle of the day with a crow bar and opening the front doors, even if there was an alarm. We started a Citizen Observer Patrol with the [Delray Beach] Police Department in 2009. We take turns driving around, observing for two-hour shifts. We have about 700 homes. A lot of people work, so it’s harder. But it’s important. Actually, when we started it, crime really went down dramatically. But it has spiked up. We don’t stop it, but I really think we help [deter] it.”
Much of Lake Ida’s crime spike is attributed to one burglar connected to “numerous” incidents there and in Boynton Beach’s Chapel Hill area, said Sgt. Nicole Guerriero, spokeswoman for the Delray Beach Police Department. Police arrested Widley Laurent last month, “and crime pretty much stopped both in Lake Ida and in Chapel Hill,” Guerriero said.
The arrest happened after a resident reported a suspicious individual, she said, a testament to the benefits of neighbors being aware and crime savvy.
“What I tell people is you have to look at it as if this is their (criminals’) job. They look for the opportunities, such as open windows, jalousie windows, unlocked doors.”
In both of the Seagate burglaries, there were no signs of forced entry, meaning a door or window was left open, she said.
“Where we’ve had the most success is where people are paying attention and working with the police.”
Baffer asks that any Seagate residents who are interested in starting a crime watch email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.