STUART, Fla. – In downtown Stuart, shop owners know Officer Corey Lee. “Good morning!” Lee says, as he greets the small businesses owners opening up shop one morning. “Good to see you!” an owner chimes back.
Lee’s sole purpose for the last nine months has been to connect with as many business owners as he can.
“We are trying to develop a relationship with the businesses like you would have with a friend,” Lee told Contact 5’s crime investigator Merris Badcock.
Lee got the idea to reach out to businesses in a boots-on-the-ground kind of way so he could invite them to join Stuart Police Department’s new business watch program
“I love the fact that they reached out to us, because we have stores all over the country and no one does this,” said Pelagic store manager, Kurt Hurley, who joined the program after meeting Lee. “It is kind of that small-town vibe that I dig.”
Some businesses, like Pelagic, jumped on board immediately.
“They called right away, sending still photographs from their surveillance footages, calling my phone, sending emails,” said Lee.
Shop owners can call about anything from crimes to minor nuisance issues, even questions about town code.
“Everyone just seems to be more conformable if they know your name,” said Lee. “They trust that their problem is going to mean just as much to us as it does to them.”
In just nine months, the program has grown to almost 300 participating businesses, and helped police solve two major crime sprees.
“This Citgo was the first big break in the program,” Lee said, pointing to the gas station during a recent ride along. “I had gone in just weeks prior and made contact with the clerk inside.”
A quick swap of surveillance footage and a few weeks later: “[The clerk] called us and said, ‘hey, hey, the guys are here,’ ” said Lee.
Police caught two men with 70 fraudulent credit cards and stolen gasoline.
A few months later, a second break came during a Home Depot robbery.
“They had been a pair,” said Lee. “They had traveled up from Miami.” Officers busted two men with more than $2,000 of stolen merchandise.
Despite the success so far, Lee says there is still more work to be done. He hopes his new approach to old fashioned police work keeps bringing his community together. “We all, in the end, just want a safe place to raise our families and to live.”