By Joe Capozzi
The Ocean Ridge Police Department plans to launch programs in 2022 aimed at providing more visible anti-crime enforcement and preventing car theft.
Police Chief Richard Jones will discuss the programs on Jan. 5 at a special Town Hall meeting. The meeting, which doubles as a meet-and-greet for residents and the new police chief, starts at 5:30 p.m.
“We will talk about crime trends and what neighbors and residents can do to protect themselves,’’ said Jones, who took over when Hal Hutchins retired in August.
Starting Jan. 10, Jones will launch a targeting enforcement initiative called the “ACE Team,’’ which stands for aggressive criminal enforcement. It will be made up of three officers who will work unique schedules in response to crimes like car thefts.
For example, if a home is burglarized at 3 a.m., the ACE group might patrol the vicinity in which the burglary occurred the next night from midnight to 5 a.m.
Although criminals might not return to the scene the next day, the ACE team’s presence in the area could result in vehicle stops for traffic violations and suspicious activity, possibly leading to arrests for outstanding warrants or in connection with stolen cars.
“It’s not that the same person is going to come back and commit a crime, but when we are a soft target because we leave our cars unlocked and our keys in them, they find success once, then chances are they’ll return to find another unlocked car with keys inside,’’ Jones said.
The ACE officers will offer a deterrent through increased presence and activity.
“Whatever we can do to put the message out to the criminal element that you can come here if you want, but be prepared, if you are here to commit crimes you will likely be encountered by the police and if there’s a reason for you to go to jail, you’re going to go to jail,’’ Jones said.
The group was launched partly in response to two car thefts on Dec. 1, one on Bimini Cove Drive and one on Harbour Drive North. In both cases, the cars were left unlocked with the keys likely left inside, Jones said.
Those two car thefts helped spur a second initiative, called a Neighborhood License Plate Recognition program, that will employ enhanced cameras mounted inside participating neighborhoods.
The new cameras will supplement the town’s existing license plate recognition cameras that were installed three years ago around Ocean Ridge.
“That system is not flawless and it doesn’t work for certain functions,’’ Jones said.
Island Drive and Island Drive South residents have volunteered to pay for the first new camera in the Neighborhood License Plate Recognition program. It will cost $2,500 a year.
Jones hopes to purchase cameras for other neighborhoods in 2022.
A third program, called the Combat Auto Theft initiative and used in other towns in Florida, will be launched if commissioners approve an ordinance creating it.
The CAT program would invite residents to participate. They would receive special reflective program-designated stickers to put on their cars in a place visible to police.
“If we see your vehicle on the street from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., it gives us reason to stop your vehicle. Most likely all residents in town are home or in bed during those hours. If we turn our blue lights on and you pull over, it probably means a resident is driving,’’ Jones said.
“But if we turn our blue lights on and the car takes off, it was probably stolen. It’s important because then we want to check on the homeowner to make sure they’re OK.’’
Through late December, Ocean Ridge had six car thefts in 2021, one fewer than the total thefts for 2020 and one more than the total for 2019.
“It’s common for us to have a stolen car or two here and there. That’s normal,’’ Jones said.
But he said most of those thefts are preventable if residents don’t leave their cars unlocked with the keys or key fobs inside.
“Too many times residents feel like this is a safe neighborhood and that no crime happens here, but that’s not entirely true,’’ he said. “It is a safe community, but it is not crime free.”
Ocean Ridge car thefts
2021 6 as of Dec. 17
SOURCE: Town of Ocean Ridge