By Sean Bowes
It becomes kind of like a scene from the movie “Home Alone.” You’re sitting on an airplane trying to relax for a much-needed vacation, and then the fear sets in. Did you pack your cell phone charger? Did you cancel the newspaper deliveries? Did you tell the neighbors to keep an eye on your house? Was the backdoor left open? Your vacation just became stressful, and you’re not even off the ground yet.
The Tampa Police Department (TPD) is trying to ease the worries of travelers by providing a “Vacation Watch” program to local residents. While TPD will not be able to help if you forget your cell phone charger on the nightstand, TPD officers will check on your home, sometimes up to three times a day, to make sure your belongings are safe, and that no one has burglarized or vandalized your house or apartment while you’ve been out of town. For TPD, the program is a part of a “proactive patrol” that the department has been embracing.
“It takes a lot less energy for us to come and check up on somebody’s house while we’re out on patrol than if they have come back from a week-long vacation to find that their house has been broken into,” TPD Officer Ali Fitzpatrick says. “And, if there has been a burglary, we have a much better chance of catching the person because we would have a time frame of when the crime occurred.”
After a string of recent thefts in the Cambridge II community in Tampa Palms, Lourdis Lozada, a homeowner in Cambridge II, began using the program, and says she feels more comfortable with the increased presence of patrol cars in the area. Lozada also organizes the community’s Neighborhood Watch program.
According to Ofc.Fitzpatrick, TPD officers will check the exterior of every resident’s home who signed up for the Vacation Watch program to see if any vandalism has occurred. Officers look through windows and inspect door locks and screen doors for any signs of forced entry. Extended as “peace of mind” for Tampa residents, the officers let their presence be known by arriving in police cruisers and in uniform to inspect the home before returning to their patrol routes.
Barbara Adams, a resident of Heritage Isles, has been using the program since 2005, and says she will continue to use it each time she goes out of town. “I just feel a bit more comfortable knowing that they actually come out to the house,” says Adams.
Many of the homes in the New Tampa area are located within gated communities, which have security cameras at the entrances, and if a home invasion takes place, TPD detectives can use the officers’ patrol time and surveillance video of vehicles coming into the community to help their investigation.
“It gives you a better chance of catching someone in the event that someone does break in,” TPD Officer Michael Noyes says.
The Vacation Watch program is free for anyone who lives in Tampa. To sign up for an officer to check on your home while you’re out of town, simply download the Vacation Watch from TampaGov.net and fax it to 931-6576, or Email the information to Lisa.Timmer@Tampagov.net.