VERO BEACH — Despite a report that crime is up in Indian River County, law enforcement officials say the barrier island remains a relatively safe enclave.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement recently released its semi-annual report and it showed a 4.6 percent increase in reported crimes in Indian River County with the bulk of the increase in burglaries. Sheriff Deryl Loar says crimes are trending up, but despite budget cuts his on-the-street patrols remain the same as last year. He noted that the inmate population at the jail is up by about 100 from a year ago “so we are out there making arrests.”
He cautions, though, law enforcement cannot be everywhere.
“We can’t predict or police an aggravated battery, yes there are things in the area of prevention we can do, but if somebody decides they are going to attack somebody that is hard to police,” he said. “It’s the same as if your neighbor sees your weedeater sitting in your driveway and decides he’d rather have that more than you.”
Loar says that a lot of what he sees are crimes of desperation where people have their jobs and unemployment has run out, coupled with an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
“Folks that were put back in ’07 and ’08, have sold everything they can sell, and have been evicted,” he said. “Now we are seeing another wave and unemployment is not getting any better, their benefits are running out, they have already sold all their other stuff, now we are seeing an increase in crimes.”
Law enforcement officials say for the most part those problems have not carried over the bridges to the barrier island with its gated communities, private security forces and a population that in general is more aware of its surroundings.
“We don’t see any indicators that crime is going to the beachside,” Loar said.
The barrier island is covered by three different law enforcement agencies: The sheriff’s office to the north and the south of the island, Indian River Shores Public Safety and the Vero Beach Police Department in the central part of the island.
Each of those entities keep different statistics. Vero Beach lumps all burglaries together and the sheriff’s office breaks them out by home and auto.
In general the level of criminal activity in the 32963 zip code has not increased significantly or has gone down in some cases.
That is not to say there is no crime. Auto break-ins remain a constant problem and the sheriff’s office did catch a thief who had been stealing $850 brass mailboxes in Orchid and selling them for scrap for $30.
The auto break-in problem is often times self-inflicted, as 90 percent of the time the car is left unlocked. Sheriff Loar said residents need to remain alert, but he admits that is not always easy.
“It happened to me,” he said. “It was raining, I got out of my truck and ran into the house and for whatever reason didn’t lock the door and the next morning the glove box was opened.”
Clearly, if it can happen to the Sheriff then it can happen to anyone.
“I would suggest they remain aware and vigilant of their surroundings, do not get complacent particularly this year with the economy showing no great signs of improvement,” he said. “I thought we did a good job beachside last year working with the residents to always be aware.”
Captain Keith Touchberry of the Vero Beach Police Department echoed those sentiments.
“Residents need to lock their homes and car doors and secure any property of value when not around,” he said. “This will prevent the majority of property crimes from occurring in the first place.”
Educating the community is a constant with law enforcement and soon the sheriff’s office will be providing deputies with stick-it notes to leave when an officer notices an unlocked car with a laptop or cell phone in plain sight.
“Deputies are given ownership of their zone and are expected to know what is going on in their communities,” Loar said. “It is a little difficult with the gated communities, but that is why we know the security guards.”
Both Touchberry and Sheriff spokesman Jeff Luther stressed barrier island residents call law enforcement if they see any suspicious activity and even to go a step further and talk to law enforcement before a problem arises.
“One of the things Sheriff Loar put into place when he came into office was call us before you need us,” Luther said. “If you see one of our deputies, stop and talk to him and vice versa. We try to get around and we like to have our deputies speak with the homeowners and we want them to speak to us too.
“If you call us before you need us, then you are more apt to call when the time might come that you do need our assistance.”