LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Although the Manatee County Sheriff's Office said there appears to be no "trend" in burglaries taking place this year, they are asking residents in the eastern parts of the county to be vigilant about protecting their homes in light of reports of "well-dressed women going into gated communities driving luxury rental cars," waiting for residents to leave and then breaking into homes to steal jewelry, electronics and other valuables.
A Sarasota County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman said this suspected band of burglars isn't violent, just sophisticated and fast.
"One day it's Sarasota, the next it's the east coast, then it's the Naples area," Wendy Rose said. "But fortunately, Florida law enforcement has a good network of sharing and that's how we are building these cases right now."
Only two burglaries have been reported in the past several months in Lakewood Ranch, one on Feb. 22 in the Legends Walk neighborhood, and another on April 28 in Muirfield, the MSO said.
The thief or thieves in Legends Walk entered the premises through a sliding glass door in mid-afternoon and left through the front door. In the case of the Muirfield burglary, the homeowners reportedly left early in the afternoon and were gone only for a short period of time. In both cases, MSO Capt. Lorenzo Waiters said, the homeowners did not activate their alarm systems.
"This year, we haven't had a rash of burglaries in the Lakewood Ranch area. We have had instances of people leaving their front doors unlocked and/or not turning on their home alarms," said Waiters, who heads the District 3 sheriffs patrol that includes Lakewood Ranch.
"People should call 911 every time they see a car or a person they're not familiar with in their subdivision. We have had people posing as UPS delivery guys, cable guys. You have to acknowledge them if they knock and you're at home," he urged.
Manatee County Sheriff's deputies patrol Lakewood Ranch on a 24-hour basis, and when they feel there are a "rash" of burglaries, Waiters says the MSO will supplement the regularly assigned deputies with overtime officers and undercover officers from the Street Crime Unit.
The Country Club section of Lakewood Ranch, where the burglaries occurred, is a gated community with three guardhouses stationed on Legacy and Waterview Boulevards off University Parkway, and Balmoral Woods Boulevard off Lakewood Ranch Boulevard. All feature state-of-the-art audio and video security camera monitoring systems.
"Thieves don't necessarily come in through the front gate," Waiters said. "They could get in through openings, like hedges. If there's a burglary trend, we'll get right on it. It doesn't take us long to identify a suspect since we have good community policing."
Richard Moran, who represents Community Development District 2 on the Country Club/Edgewater Village Association Safety Committee, said that some of the neighborhoods are having their own safety meetings and are inviting Manatee County Sheriff's deputies to speak to them. He also said deputies will come to a resident's home and perform a security check, offering recommendations where they feel there are vulnerabilities.
"They're doing the best they can do. When all is said and done, if the alarm -- which is built into your home -- is not set, people can be in and out for a very short period of time."
The Country Club/Edgewater Village Association Safety Committee meets every third Thursday of the month at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall.
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter@MoschellaHerald.