Downtown Businesses Confront Crime, Complacency 

Andrea Farnum looks out the front window of her store on Beach Boulevard. In February, she chased two people who stole merchandise from the store out to the street and got their license plate, which helped police solve the crime.

Andrea Farnum looks out the front window of her store on Beach Boulevard. In February, she chased two people who stole merchandise from the store out to the street and got their license plate, which helped police solve the crime.

 

 

 

Two months ago, Gulfport business owner Andrea Farnum was dismayed when two thieves stole her wallet and some merchandise from her new store on Beach Boulevard. Two weeks ago, she was pleasantly surprised when a persistent Gulfport policeman arrested the main perpetrator, who is now sitting in jail facing nine felony charges.

Farnum, who opened Mermaid Bay Mercantile in November with her husband Lincoln, has only nice things to say about Officer Michael Sigsbee, the newest policeman in the Gulfport Police Department.

“I felt he took a personal interest in the case,” Farnum said during an interview in her shop on Tuesday, April 26. “It meant something to him, and he wanted to solve it.”

The incident took place on the busy afternoon of February 26, when a man and a woman entered the crowded store. The old-fashioned retailer features one-of-a-kind artwork, accessories, house wares, jewelry, gifts, packaged food products and soaps. The man asked Farnum to show him something in the back while his companion remained up front, and when Farnum returned to the register she noticed some jewelry was missing.

When she confronted the woman, the couple left the property. Farnum called 911 and followed them into the street, where she was able to get the license plate number on the man’s car.

A later examination of the store’s video showed the woman taking the jewelry as well as opening the door to Farnum’s private office, Farnum said. Within half an hour, the couple had charged more than $3,000 worth of merchandize on credit cards stolen with her wallet, she said.

Sigsbee, the officer who initially responded to the scene, was able to track down the man within a week. Earlier this month, he spotted the woman walking down the street as he was rushing to another crime scene and subsequently made a point of cruising the area. April 16, his efforts paid off: he saw her on the street again and was able to apprehend her.

Barbara Rogers, 64, of 3445 49th St. S in Gulfport, already had two outstanding arrest warrants, Sgt. Michael Marotta said Tuesday as he reviewed the police report. She faces felony charges of theft, robbery, burglary and fraudulent use of credit cards, he said.

Gulfport Police Chief Robert Vincent said Gulfport businesses may not be considering the possibility of being the victims of crime. Vincent spoke on Tuesday at a meeting of the Beach Boulevard Business Watch, which was attended by exactly zero Beach Boulevard businesses. Present were three policemen, three members of the public and one reporter.

“This is the dilemma we face,” Vincent said. “People feel they are so safe they don’t need to participate in the business watch.”

He said while the city overall has very little violent crime, the waterfront area has one of the highest rates of smaller crimes owing to the large numbers of visitors. Many of these are crimes of opportunity, like retail theft, bicycle theft and theft from unlocked cars.

Asked if he had any suggestions for local businesses wanting to protect themselves, he suggested having two people working in the shops, if possible, and never leaving cash in the registers overnight. He also recommended maintaining good relations with neighboring residents, whose complaints about ordinance violations can result in repeated police visits and possible shut-down, and making sure customers adhere to parking restrictions.

Richard Grimberg, who coordinates the Gulfport Police Department’s neighborhood and business crime watches, said he was disappointed by the lack of business-owner attendance at Tuesday’s meeting with the chief.

“The business watch takes a proactive approach towards crime,” he said, adding that it focuses on prevention instead of after-the-fact response. “That’s why we need participation.”

Despite the lack of participation at the recent business watch meeting, Farnum said she thought the theft from her store, and possibly from other Beach Boulevard businesses on February 26, had served as a wake-up call to local store owners. She said they had started sharing information about crime through social media, and some had taken steps to increase their security as a result.

“The best thing that happened out of all this is that all the different merchants on this street started talking to each other more,” she said. “It started the conversation, when maybe we were all a little complacent.”

 

Don't be shy. Tell us what you think.