Preventing crime with perception: Neighborhood watch program in St. Petersburg spreading in city

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla - Crime is down in some St. Petersburg neighborhood. One man is trying to keep it that way.

Dr. Ed Carlson is taking lessons from a successful neighborhood watch just a few miles away in the Jungle Terrace area. He means business.

"I feel very official," said Carlson.

Dr. Carlson rides his bike through the Jungle Terrace area keeping watch of the neighborhood he loves and lives in.

"Our knowing is that people are innately good and if you give some encouragement in the 'be good' department then they will be good," Carlson said, laughing.

Carlson started the Neighborhood Scout and Safety Program. Over the last six years, 29 other scouts have joined the effort. They have nearly eliminated crime in the park near Carlson's home.

"Presence plus perception equals prevention," said Carlson, citing the group’s motto.

They do not carry weapons and barely interact with people but they do give police helpful information when they see it. They make themselves known by wearing custom made shirts.

"We made the letters so big on the back of our shirts because that indicates 'official-ness' to people," Carlson laughed.

And, they write in these custom notebooks.

"If they have an official looking book and people see them riding in it it contributes to the perception," Carlson said.

They take note of busted street lamps and potholes, anything they can report to the city that could potentially be fixed.

The program has been so successful; a neighbor in the Old Northeast area of St. Pete wants to start up a new sector of the group.

According to statistics from the St. Pete Police Department, the entire district 2 had more than 1,100 burglaries in 2001. By 2015, that number has dropped to less than 700.

That neighbor hopes citizen patrolling will lower the number even more. Dr. Carlson says it works.

"There is a need for an organization like an NSSP in every neighborhood," said Carlson. "The neighborhood participates, and it only takes a few people to make a huge difference."

The newly formed group in the Old Northeast neighborhood is meeting to discuss how they will get gear to make this happen and divvy up routes.  They encourage any and all interested folks to come out. You can ride a bike or walk an area of the neighborhood, it does not matter to them how you contribute.

The meeting is set for 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, August 5 at Paciugo Gelato & Caffe at 300 Beach Drive in downtown St. Petersburg. Ask for Andrew Orr.

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