BRADENTON -- The Bradenton Police Department just put an extra 50 pairs of eyes on the road to search for signs of crime.
Following an early-morning neighborhood watch-style training Friday, electricians for Bradenton electrical contractor Rayco Electric drove their service vans out of the company parking lot on 18th Ave W. just after 8 a.m. ready to help make the city a safer place.
The training, the first for the city's new Chain Mobile Business Watch program, sent the Rayco employees out into their 50-mile service area with a mandate to report back to police if they see signs of criminal behavior or crimes in progress.
In predawn light glowing through a tall rollup door in Rayco's warehouse, Bradenton neighborhood watch coordinator Officer Scottie Camacho told her trainees that they are in neighborhoods and homes every day that may not be patrolled by officers. Their observations, she said, could make the difference in getting police to the scene of a crime before someone is robbed, injured or even killed.
"You may have stopped something that could've been devastating, like a murder," she said.
The 35-year old commercial and residential electrical contracting and service company became the pioneer member of the mobile watch when police recently investigated suspicious activity near Rayco allegedly perpetrated by transients. Camacho approached business owner Ray Felske and invited him to volunteer his company for the mobile watch. He agreed to do it.
The idea behind the program is this: Invite Bradenton companies that send fleets of vehicles out as part of their everyday business to have their employees look for signs of crime as they drive and wherever they stop during the day. Camacho said the task isn't something these mobile workers need to concentrate on. They just need to know what sorts of behavior seem out of place and who to call when a crime seems to be in the offing.
Similar programs exist in other locations around the nation. Camacho said they have the potential to reduce crime. Neighborhood watch programs have been shown to reduce the instances of crime in some areas by up to 65 percent,
Rayco's electricians were enthusiastic about the task. Each took away a folder of law enforcement contact numbers and instructions on how to identify key suspect features.
"We are out there every day seeing what's going on," said electrician Mark Kuhl. "Now that we're aware of suspicious behaviors, it's good to have this info on hand."
Ed Hart, another Rayco electrician, said he would want mobile service personnel in his own neighborhood and even his home looking for signs of trouble.
"If I'm doing it for someone else, I'd love someone else to do it for me," he said.
Camacho told the electricians to be aware of people trying doors or windows in neighborhoods, sitting in cars for long periods of time or concealing what seem to be weapons. She also encouraged them to be aware of their surroundings in client homes and to note signs of illegal activity or abusive situations involving children or vulnerable adults.
Camacho also noted that failing to report incidents of child abuse can lead to a third-degree felony conviction under a 2012 change to the state's mandatory reporting law.
Participants in the mobile watch are encouraged to call the Bradenton Police Department when reporting suspicious behavior that has not yet resulted in a crime. When watch participants witness a crime, they are asked to call 911.
Rayco employees will place stickers on their trucks indicating that they are participating in the watch program.
The mobile watch program is related to neighborhood and business watch programs sponsored by the Bradenton Police Department. All the watch programs are labeled "The Chain," a moniker intended to identify a link between the greater Bradenton community and law enforcement.
Camacho said she will invite other businesses to participate in the mobile watch in the coming weeks. Businesses interested in joining the program can volunteer by calling the police department at 941-932-9300.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.