Eye in the sky protects Clearwater shoppers - WFLA News Channel 8

Eye in the sky protects Clearwater shoppers

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Police will monitor the Countryside Mall parking lot in an observation tower called SkyWatch. Police will monitor the Countryside Mall parking lot in an observation tower called SkyWatch.
"We get views in both directions from the south side of the mall," said Pinellas County Sheriff's Office Public Information Coordinator Cecilia Barreda. "We get views in both directions from the south side of the mall," said Pinellas County Sheriff's Office Public Information Coordinator Cecilia Barreda.
Police will monitor the Countryside Mall parking lot in an observation tower called SkyWatch. Police will monitor the Countryside Mall parking lot in an observation tower called SkyWatch.
While many stores expect to do most of their business during the holiday season, many thieves and burglars have the same idea.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and Clearwater Police Department are joining forces to head off trouble in parking lots.

They've created an extra line of protection against thieves
at the Westfield Countryside Mall in Clearwater, and that protection comes from above.

It's called SkyWatch, an observation tower designed to stop a crime dead in its tracks.

From inside the two-story surveillance tower, law enforcement can check out any suspicious activity in the Westfield Countryside Mall parking lot.

Related: Smaller Black Friday crowds at Brandon Mall thanks to Thanksgiving shoppers

"It offers an aerial observation and surveillance. We can look in parking lots to look for car burglars," said Cpl. Erne Armistead of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office's Special Services Division.

The tower is equipped with cameras and computers. Facial recognition experts are just an email and a click away.

SkyWatch is a $120,000 piece of equipment that the sheriff's office obtained it from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

From up high, the tower provides law enforcement with a 360-degree view.

"I think it's cool that they're up that high like that so they can see everything, normally they patrol, but I don't know how they can really see, patrolling," shopper Vicki Tritch said.

SkyWatch is set up on the south side of the mall. It does however, have its limitations.

"We can't see on the other side, but currently there are police officers throughout the area. At least we get views in both directions from the south side of the mall," said Pinellas County Sheriff's Office Public Information Coordinator Cecilia Barreda.

Some businesses expect to do 40 percent of their annual sales between Black Friday weekend and the end of the year.

That means thieves will be watching shoppers like Mike Whitmer, who didn't mind the idea of being watched by law enforcement.

"I would say that's pretty cool, because I would assume I'm being watched anyway," Whitmer said.

SkyWatch is not only meant to catch, but also dissuade potential thieves.

"Hopefully the goal is to serve as a deterrent. If they see it, hopefully we will stop anyone who has an interest in trying to break into a vehicle or any criminal activity to stop it in its tracks," Barreda said.

SkyWatch will be at the Westfield Countryside Mall through Saturday.

However, after 5 p.m. and later, when much of the crime occurs, it won't be operational.

Clearwater Police contend they will have a continued presence at the mall during the holiday season.

They do want to remind everyone that not leaving anything of value in your vehicles will help prevent your holiday gifts from becoming someone's holiday heist.

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