How one North Fort Myers community is fighting back against looters

Published: November 3, 2022 3:51 PM EDT
Updated: November 3, 2022 6:07 PM EDT

Post-storm looting is worse than ever in Lee County, but law enforcement, and the community, are fighting back.

WINK News investigative reporter Peter Fleischer uncovers the numbers behind the looting problem and how one neighborhood is coming together for protection.

Whether grabbing through debris on the sidewalk or entering a home and taking valuable items, looters have been snooping around Southwest Florida since Hurricane Ian made landfall.

“I think it’s disgusting,” said Patricia Poe, who lives in a 55 and up North Fort Myers community.

Poe’s community is one of many where looting arrests have been made. She and her neighbors see looters lurking all the time.

“A guy, seen him, and he scared him off. Just told him, you’re not here to steal from me,” said Poe.

Lee County records show 37 looting arrests were made in the month following Hurricane Ian, more than double the 16 looting arrests the county made in 2017 in the month after Irma.

“Those that think they can prey on our great residents in a time like this, there’s no words to describe how disgusting that is,” said Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno.

County data shows the looting has been rampant, stretching from north Lee County down to the coastal communities. Law enforcement is active but stretched thin.

“Three o’clock in the morning, we’re seeing kids coming in on bikes. I called the police about it, he said keep the video, but there’s nothing they can do,” said Poe.

Victims of Hurricane Ian can look out for one another.

In Poe’s neighborhood, people have started aiming ring cameras strategically, watching empty houses, and even confronting looters when they feel safe.

“It’s the only thing we can do! How do we protect ourselves if you haven’t got a neighbor who will protect you?” asked Poe. “We’ve had enough disaster. We don’t need no more.”

For those willing to prey on hurricane victims, the consequences are steep. Looters are typically charged with grand theft and burglary when caught.

County records show more than half of Lee County looting arrests happened on Fort Myers Beach.