In the wake of recent tragic events in the area, members of the Horizon West Alliance and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office came together to host a safety workshop.
The safety workshop was held Wednesday, Jan. 29, at the Summerport Clubhouse in response to an alleged armed robbery that was deemed unfounded by detectives and after the recent tragic death of a Windermere High student. Topics of discussion were crime prevention tips, mental health resources and a sector update on overall crime in the Horizon West area.
“We thought it would be a good idea to come out here to go over some crime prevention, how our children should be interacting with strangers if they encounter them and some other things,” Orange County Sector 3 Capt. Tony Marlow said. “From the Sheriff’s Office perspective, it’s always our goal to make sure that we’re putting out accurate information — timely information — so that residents in the community are well informed of issues of importance.”
Deputy Victoria Santos, of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office Crime Prevention Unit, shared several tips related to crime prevention. She said there are three elements to a crime: desire, ability and opportunity. She added that although residents can do little to impact a would-be criminal’s desire or ability to commit a crime, one of the simplest ways to prevent crime is to minimize the opportunity for crimes to occur.
“With one element missing, a crime cannot occur,” Santos said in relation to the three elements of a crime. “In regards to personal safety, always be aware of your surroundings. I know in the digital age, our heads are always on our phone — we’re looking down, we’re not paying attention to what’s going on around you. Please have your head on a swivel, maintain that situational awareness and trust your instincts. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.”
Another tip Santos shared was to change one’s daily patterns and/or routines to help prevent burglaries. She also suggested that if an individual — particularly if the individual is a juvenile — is going somewhere, they should let someone else know where they’re going and what time they plan on returning. Other crime prevention tips she shared are to keep a cell phone accessible and charged, make sure the doors to houses and vehicles are locked, avoid poorly lit areas and keep a well-lit house.
“House numbers … are of particular importance, particularly to first responders, because if you guys don’t have a house number either on the mailbox or driveway of your home, it’s going to be difficult for first responders to get to you,” Santos said. “Lighting is the bad guy’s enemy. If you have good lighting on the exterior of your house, it’s kind of going to deter anybody from wanting to break in.”
Sandara E. Williams is a victim advocate with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. She discussed the different resources related to mental health during the workshop. She said although the Orange County Sheriff’s Office does not endorse any particular mental health care provider, it does provide a list of different providers organized by ZIP code.
“My role is to go and give moral support to wherever the scene is — be it at someone’s residence, be it at a school, be it at a bank,” Williams said. “We also leave resource booklets for when we leave (a scene). … In this resource booklet, it has step-by-step (instructions) to do if you run into the situation of different types of crime scenes or callouts. It also has a list of counselors.”
Williams added that the resource booklet includes free counseling services, as well as services that accept insurance. The booklet also includes information related to crimes that go to trial and the steps that take place during the trial process.
“We just believe that once we leave (a crime scene), we know that there’s a lot of questions,” Williams said. “(The booklet) just kind of gives you a step-by-step (guide) so that you’re not completely lost, because when you’re under stress — especially if you’re under the stress of losing a loved one — there are a lot of times where you don’t know what steps to take and sometimes you don’t even know what questions to ask.”
Marlow and Deputy Frank Del Guercio both went over the sector update for overall crime in Horizon West. They said crime in Zone 31, which includes Horizon West, is still low and that the most common crime that occurs in the area is vehicle burglaries.
“Everything is down right now,” Del Guercio said. “Hopefully, that’s the way we can keep it, but that goes along with people reporting things, seeing something (and) saying something.”
“For zone 31 as a whole ... in 2018 we had 229 crimes,” Marlow said. “In 2019, we had 220 crimes. The biggest challenge that we have in this particular area are auto burglaries. Those crimes drive the numbers. … A lot of those (crimes involve) unlocked doors (and) people leaving belongings in their cars.”
Marlow added that in addition to making sure car doors are locked, residents should not leave valuables behind in their cars. Even if a car door is locked, if something valuable is left in a car, a criminal can still get to it by breaking a car window. Marlow said another common crime in the Horizon West area is auto theft.
“We had 48 (auto thefts) in 2018 (and) 45 in 2019,” Marlow said. “A lot of those (crimes occurred because) people are leaving key fobs (in their cars). A lot of people have push-to-start cars and (criminals) come up, open the door, they crank up the car and they leave. … The long-term goal for us is always to reduce residential burglaries and auto burglaries. If we keep those numbers down, we can keep the numbers down in the sector as a whole, but zone 31 has the least amount of crime out of all the zones. We’re working hard to keep it that way, but again, we need your help to push that information out there.”