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Retiring with security.


IN THIS AGE OF RAMPANT CRIME, either you can hope it will get better all by itself, or you can try to do something about it. Residents of a retirement community in Sun City Center, FL, made a decision to get involved in their own security and safety by patrolling the streets and the property of their community themselves.

This community involvement began because of an incident in February 1982 involving prowlers and vandalism. Members of the community decided to form their own patrol to prevent and detect some crime problems without having to rely totally on the county sheriff's department.

The security patrol was developed and activated by volunteers and is still staffed completely by them. These volunteers are retired persons with an average age of 68 with some more than 80 years old. None of them have security backgrounds. Instead, they were involved in industry, education, government, and the military prior to their retirement. Starting out with 297 members, the patrol has since grown to a membership of over 1,200.

Operating the patrol vehicles, an office, the radios, and other equipment requires a sizable budget. The financial source for operating the patrol is the same as the source that provides the staffing--the community. Each year a fund-raising campaign is held to support the patrol, and community members, clubs, and businesses donate generously to this worthy cause.

A nine-member board of directors manages the business of the organization. The patrol has a chief supervisor, and group leaders coordinate the day-to-day operation of the patrol. Each day of the month a team is designated to patrol.

Each of the 31 patrol team consists of a captain, two deputy captains, a dispatcher, and two team members per vehicle--one to drive and the other to operate the radio.

The community includes 10 square miles of property, 38 miles of paved streets, six lakes, numerous ponds, and six golf courses. It also has its own hospital and doctors' offices, an inn, recreation buildings, community hall, shopping center, banks, churches, and other office buildings.

Each team's day begins at 9 am. The captain or designated deputy captain is officer of the day and is on call during the period of the team's duty. Each team patrols its zone for an average of three hours and is then relieved by two others to continue the patrol.

Patrol members are not allowed to carry firearms or other weapons. They are basically patrolling to see and be seen. Suspicious persons and vehicles are noted and radioed in to the dispatcher who in turn notifies the team captain. He or she evaluates the situation and decides whether to contact the sheriff's department.

The security patrol investigates calls concerning

* prowlers;

* Peeping Toms;

* suspicious persons, vehicles, and telephone calls;

* missing persons and animals;

* solicitors;

* trespassers;

* property thefts; and

* people locked out of their businesses, residences, or vehicles. In addition, the patrol performs courtesy services such as transporting residents to the hospital and picking up stranded people. Unsafe street conditions and lighting are also noted and passed along to the proper authorities.

Other patrol activities include investigating open garage doors, vehicle doors, residential and office doors, and trunks. The patrol also looks for fires.

Each night the patrol checks all buildings in the community recreation area. All doors and windows are checked to see if they have been locked properly. If unlocked, the patrol locks them and notes the action in the activities log. If the building cannot be locked by the patrol, the building's management is notified immediately to report to the scene. The next day, the building's occupants are notified.

A special fenced-in parking area is provided for the residents' recreational vehicles. This area is also checked during the patrol to ensure the property is not vandalized or burglarized.

To assist in protecting community residents and property, all community residents' vehicles are identified with decals affixed on the front and rear bumpers. Consequently, a nondecaled vehicle driving or parked in the community, especially during late night hours, is investigated.

A license number file is kept on all undecaled vehicles entering the community at odd hours, and their registrations are investigated. These vehicle registration checks have identified the names of some individuals who have criminal records and may present problems to the community. Such suspect vehicles and their occupants are then documented in the activity log for all patrol members to take note of before beginning their zone patrols.

The patrol also performs a house watch program for residents who are away on vacation or who are only seasonal residents. If problems are discovered during the periodic checks, the owners are notified immediately.

The patrol is also involved in notifying residents if family or friends are unable to contact them by phone. In emergencies, telephone operators refer such callers to the security patrol. When such an emergency notification occurs, the patrol visits the resident. Often the problem stems from a technical difficulty such as a phone inadvertently left off the hook. Other times, unfortunately, the patrol may find the resident ill or, in the worst-case scenario, deceased.

SOME UNCOMMON TYPES OF CALLS that the patrol receives include snakes in houses, alligators on lawns, and disoriented people wandering the streets. Persistent golf cart theft or vandalism is also a problem for this community because it is the only community authorized by the state to use golf carts as automobiles during daylight hours. Therefore, the carts abound and are inviting for miscreants to take on a joyride, using them to vandalize lawns and golf greens or leaving them in ponds and lakes.

These and other incidents that come to the attention of the security patrol are charted and investigated. A map of the various crimes, such as actual and attempted break-ins, property thefts, and auto and golf cart thefts, are plotted on the map by street and patrol zone.

Incident files are then prepared on each case. The sheriff's investigators perform a follow-up investigation to learn of any new developments that would affect the community's patrol strategy.

This relationship with the sheriff's investigators is very effective because the patrol provides a continuing stream of data from its surveillance details. The sheriff's department can then develop the information further as it relates to other areas of the community and county.

If a vehicle is observed again in the community, a surveillance detail is placed on the vehicle to monitor its occupants' actions. Sheriff's units may assist in this special surveillance so that if criminal action occurs, an arrest can be made immediately.

Training new members for the patrol is an important part of the program and is now being updated. It will offer a more formalized approach to familiarize new team members with the equipment and tasks of the patrol. Audiovisual aids will also be produced to augment on-the-job training by the team captains.

Attrition of staff members is important in judging the success of any program. The reduction in staffing for the Sun City Center security patrol, however, is not caused by retirement--members are already retired. In most cases members must decline patrol duty due to advanced age, serious illness, or death. The need to add new members, therefore, is constant.

Recruiting new members is done by contacting them at their homes or through the community-wide "Hi, Neighbor!" programs. The new recruits then participate in an orientation program, an operations training class, and patrol vehicle training. Crime prevention literature has also been provided to the entire community. It deals with protection procedures against burglary, robbery, sexual offenses, fraud, vehicle thefts, and telephone harassment.

Plans are now underway to train a group of patrol members to assist residents in conducting their own home security surveys. Again, this project's objective is to reduce exposure to crime and criminals.

At this time the security patrol has two staff members who answer the telephone, deal with people who visit the office, and handle the necessary paperwork. A computer handles patrol scheduling, accounting, donor listing, activity reports, house watch reports, team reports, incident reports, personnel files, financial reports, and the board of directors' reports.

When the business office is not open, incoming calls to the patrol are transferred to the officer of the day or the group leader so service can be provided to the community continually whether the office is staffed or not.

In the future a special security patrol building will be constructed in the community to house the entire operation. It will include training facilities, a dispatching station, general offices, and an office for the sheriff's investigators.

As an indication of the success of the patrol, the sheriff's department has acknowledged that Sun City Center has the lowest crime rate in the county and requires much less patrol and enforcement than other communities. It may even have the lowest crime rate in Florida. The idea that people can do what needs to be done is abundantly evident in this retirement community.

PHOTO : Each patrol team consists of two members--one to drive and the other to radio in to the

PHOTO : dispatcher sightings of suspicious persons and vehicles.

L. Richard Bergstrom, CPP, is president of Staff Orientation Systems Inc. in Sun City Center, Fl. He is the author of over 80 audiovisual programs dealing with crime and loss prevention and security training. Bergstrom is a member of ASIS.
COPYRIGHT 1990 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:retirement community residents actively involved in their own security
Author:Bergstrom, L. Richard
Publication:Security Management
Date:Feb 1, 1990
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