In 1984, President Ronald Reagan declared October “Crime Prevention Month” to educate the public about personal safety and reduce crime through partnerships between law enforcement and the community. While the entire month is dedicated to crime prevention efforts, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office focuses on preventing crime in the community all year through the Crime Prevention & Community Awareness Unit (CPCA).

The three members of the unit work together to educate the community and raise awareness of the most common crimes in Pinellas County. According to Sergeant Maurice McCloud, who leads the unit, the best ways to reduce crime are bringing residents together to establish a strong Neighborhood Watch group, conducting educational presentations that teach individuals how to recognize warning signs, and using technology to keep communities safe.

Deputy Chuck Skipper has been a member of the unit for a total of seven years and organizes and administers presentations, such as Social Media Safety for Parents & Children, Active Assailant, and Burglary Prevention.

“An in-person crime prevention presentation can be both educational and empowering,” Deputy Skipper said. “Citizens have the opportunity to meet with local law enforcement officers who are familiar with local crime trends. I’ve been told by many residents over the years how the information they learned during a presentation had helped them recognize situations where they were vulnerable, feel safer, or prevented them from being scammed. In addition, these presentations encourage them to share what they’ve learned with neighbors and family members.”

According to the CPCA, the most common crimes they see can often be easily prevented by simple tactics, such as locking the doors of their vehicle to prevent burglary and hanging up the phone when a strange caller attempts to obtain personal information.

“After working as a deputy for years and witnessing many crimes that impacted people firsthand, I’m excited and passionate about sharing information that can prevent someone from being a victim in the first place,” Deputy Skipper added. “It can be challenging when many people simply act complacent and don’t realize they could do a much better job of protecting themselves against some of the most common crimes by following a few tips. Unfortunately, too many citizens learn the hard way after becoming a victim.”

Not only does the CPCA teach individuals how to protect themselves from harm, but they also teach them how to recognize suspicious behavior in their everyday lives and how to respond. Deputy Dan DiFrancesco who also is in the unit, recalls a woman who was in one of his presentations and later observed a suspicious person loitering near a residence and quickly reported it to the sheriff’s office. When the deputy arrived, the individual fled the scene and left behind a stolen bicycle. This evidence led to the arrest of an individual who had multiple outstanding warrants.

One of the most common scams Deputy DiFrancesco witnesses is the “Grandparent Scam,” which involves a scammer who pretends to be an elderly person’s loved one to obtain their bank account information or money via gift card purchases.

“I really enjoy the fact that we are playing a part in preventing someone’s loved one from becoming a victim,” he said. “Between myself and Deputy Skipper, we offer more than 55 years of combined law enforcement experience to the public. The meetings we have are effective because we provide an approachable and informative-style presentation.”

Beyond coordinating these educational presentations and the Neighborhood Watch Program, CPCA is always looking for new ways to keep the community safe.

Sergeant McCloud added, “Crime Prevention tactics have changed over the years and will continue to change in the future. However, what will remain the same is every person’s responsibility to take part in crime prevention so they don’t become a victim of a crime.”

For weekly crime prevention tips, follow us on Facebook. We post crime prevention tips every Wednesday. We also feature these tips in the video series, “The Weekly 150.”

To schedule a crime prevention presentation, participate in the Neighborhood Watch Program, or receive more information on these topics, contact the Crime Prevention & Community Awareness Unit at: 727-582-2222