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Sheriff: LWR generates only 2 percent of county's crime

LAKEWOOD RANCH — There were 279 serious crimes in the large geographic zone that includes Lakewood Ranch in 2008.

That’s a 14 percent reduction from the 323 rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, larcenies and motor vehicle thefts that occurred in North-80 zone in 2007, according to Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube.

Although many residents may feel crime is on the way up, not down, in Lakewood Ranch, the statistics don’t bear it out, Steube told 80 who attended the Country Club/Edgewater Village Homeowner’s Association safety committee meeting Thursday.

Steube said that Lakewood Ranch, which is served by two deputies at any one time patrolling North-80 from the Sarasota County line south to State Road 70, east to Lorraine Road and west past Interstate-75, represents only 2 percent of Manatee County’s total crime.

The only area of the county with less crime is the Myakka City zone, Steube said

Residents, however, told Steube that there have been a handful of disturbing house burglaries lately in Lakewood Ranch.

Residents also questioned the Sheriff about gang activity and if there was any sign of gangs in Edgewater Cove or Country Club neighborhoods.

Response time was another inquiry.

Steube responded by saying he thought that most of the house burglaries in Lakewood Ranch probably occurred during the day by people perhaps known to the homeowners.

“I can only assume it was someone who lives around there or who has access,” Steube said. “Here again, we want people in Lakewood Ranch to report anything suspicious. Just dial 911.”

Ed Martinetto, a Belmont resident who moved to Lakewood Ranch in 2005 from New Jersey, said residents need to be vigilant.

“I think we all have to be a little street-wise,” Martinetto said. “We can’t let down our guard.”

Lakewood Ranch residents can breathe easily about gangs being in their community.

“I don’t think you have to be concerned with that,” Steube said.

Response time to a call dropped countywide from 16 minutes, 33 seconds in 2007 to nine minutes, 10 seconds in 2008, the sheriff said.

The sheriff attributed the decrease to a more efficient call routing system.

“We want to hear that the response time has gone down,” said Donald Avolio of Laurel Valley.

Steube did qualify that short response time by saying if both deputies are at an urgent call, perhaps in Mill Creek, the response time in Lakewood Ranch for a non-urgent matter could increase to as much as a hour.

Steube said he thought Lakewood Ranch is doing well crime-wise and only really needs preventative care, like locked cars, closed garages, alarm systems activated and home safes used instead of left unlocked.

If Country Club does want to hire an off duty Manatee County Sheriff’s deputy to do roving patrols, the rate is $32 an hour, Steube said.

The report card for the rest of Manatee County was not quite as good.

The county’s crime rate went up 2.4 percent in 2008, with a decrease in violent crime but an increase in shoplifting, vehicle and home break-ins.

Not surprisingly, the unemployment rate rose from 4.8 to 8.7 percent in that period, Steube said.

There are seven homicides for the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office so far this year. It took six months to reach that figure last year, Steube said. (Among all law enforcement agencies in the county, there have been 11 homicides so far this year.)

Drive-by shootings have been reduced as the department has focused on gangs the past two years.

Steube reported there are 14 identifiable gangs in the county with 600 to 800 members.

In other news:

n Country Club supervisors approved new maintenance standards for Country Club sidewalks that officially call for the district to repair trip hazards. Residents who see sidewalks that could present safety issues are asked to call the district office at 727-0899.

n Greenbrook supervisors approved a roughly $37,000 contract with Aquatic Systems to attack the algae in 40 Greenbrook ponds.

n The much anticipated re-do of the Legacy Boulevard entrance at Country Club has begun with the ripping out of old landscape and the installation of new signs, lighting and guard house renovations. The project should be completed by July 1.

n District 1 recently erected two new signs at the entrance from River Club on Clubhouse Drive. “They still need to be painted,” supervisor June Stroup said. The old ones were just about ready to fall down, Stroup added.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 708-7917.