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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A potted plant, bird feeder, and wind chimes — all items you might keep outside your home to keep it looking beautiful. However, anything that's out in the open like that may also be prime targets for thieves.
Crime Tracker 10 found such property thefts are a problem in one St. Petersburg neighborhood.
Monica Dulin, who lives in a bustling area of St. Petersburg's Central Oak Park neighborhood, said she has had lawn ornaments stolen three times this year.
"It's just sad to see it happening over and over again and it's just a little bit discouraging," Dulin told 10 Tampa Bay.
Her front yard and garden are clear labors of love, with a faux coy pond, bright rows of flowers and several bird feeders.
Previously, her favorite ornament had been a tall "wind spinner," which she said she enjoyed watching while she drank her morning coffee.
One morning in April, she discovered someone had taken that wind spinner. She purchased another, casting it in concrete this time, but someone took that wind spinner a month later, breaking it off at the base.
Because the individual approached her home on foot, police believe they may live nearby.
"It makes me sick to my stomach to think that someone just has such disrespect for not just my home and my property but for their community and the area that they live in," Dulin said.
Dulin said her home is not the only target of these thefts.
"A lot of our neighbors are experiencing things like this," Dulin said. "One of our neighbors had their bicycles stolen out of their front yard while they were standing in their garage."
St. Petersburg Police Crime Prevention Specialist Chip Wells said there are steps you can take to prevent this from happening to your home:
"First thing is to keep it close to your house, because the further out, the easier it is for somebody to grab and go," Wells said. "We want to keep it close to lighting. If you have one of the ring cameras or a similar product, keep it lit so that they can see it. That’s also why we want to keep the light on, a lot of times the ring camera can see at night, but it’s not really good enough to identify the people."
For added protection, consider securing items with cement.
"Take a few minutes and go out there and dig a little hole two or three inches deep, pour some cement in it, put your ornaments in it while it’s still wet. No one‘s going to be taking it now!" He added.
Wells said even small obstacles may deter thieves.
"Make it hard enough that they don't wanna take it and they want to just move on down the road. Most of the time this is just a crime of opportunity," Wells said.
If someone does steal from you, no matter what the item's value, Wells urges you to report it.
"The thing about this type of crime, lawn ornaments and things like that, is that most people don't report it, so we really don't know how much is occurring... it takes you less than 10 minutes [to file a report], but it gives us an idea of what's happening in the city and where," Wells explained. "We can't fix something if we don't know where it is."
Monica Dulin has reported each of her thefts, and St. Petersburg Police are still investigating.
She says $5 or $5,000, this isn't about an item's value, it's about respect.
"For some people, it might not be a big deal, but it wasn’t theirs, and if it’s not yours, don’t touch it!" she said. "Respect other people's property. I respect other people's property and if we all live by very simple general rules then we can all get along."
In Florida, petit theft (more commonly known as petty theft) is classified as stolen property valued at less than $750.
Penalties depend on prior convictions and items value, but even first-time offenders could face a first-degree misdemeanor with the potential of one year in jail, and a fine of up to $1,000.
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