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    Police boost patrols after fatal shooting

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 10, 2002

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    ST. PETERSBURG -- Under pressure from the City Council, St. Petersburg's police chief agreed Tuesday to add more patrols to a neighborhood where a drive-by shooting left one man dead Monday night.

    Police said they had made no arrests in that shooting but questioned four suspects in connection with another incident four hours later, when undercover detectives were fired upon while driving through the same neighborhood.

    Three bullets hit the car, and one narrowly missed a detective's head.Both incidents Monday involved assault weapons, a development that police find alarming.

    In both incidents, shooters used combat weapons in dense neighborhoods. These weapons easily penetrate walls and cars.

    So far this year, two people have been killed with an assault rifle.

    "We have to work very hard and find who's responsible for (Monday's killing) and bring them to justice," Mayor Rick Baker said.

    The violence in the Melrose Avenue area in south St. Petersburg comes amid growing criticism that the Police Department is short on staff and making fewer drug arrests. The incident also comes less than two weeks after afternoon gunfire rattled a street in the Childs Park community, nearly 30 blocks west of Monday's shooting.

    At a previously scheduled meeting Tuesday, police Chief Chuck Harmon took pointed questions from council members who pressed him to add more officers to Thirteenth Street Heights, which includes Melrose Avenue S.

    "When you get 60 rounds discharged in the streets of our city, that concerns me," council member Bill Foster said. "What are you going to do short term: tomorrow, tonight and the next night?"

    Foster held up yellow crime scene tape he plucked from the gutter on Melrose Avenue.

    Harmon finally said, "We'll have extra people out there now that we know there's a heightened awareness to do that."

    In an interview later, the police chief said he will send more patrols into the neighborhood temporarily but won't add full-time officers there for now.

    The shootings Monday evening -- which occurred in the same area where small explosives were tossed at officers in January -- revived concern that the police are struggling to patrol the city. Drug arrests dropped 19 percent last year, and Melrose residents said the police have not responded to their reports of crack dealing.

    But Harmon says he has enough officers. Every member of the City Council present Tuesday pledged to find money for more.

    "When it comes to appropriations, you have the easiest sell," Jay Lasita said.

    "The madness has got to stop, and it has got to stop now," local NAACP president Darryl Rouson said Tuesday after visiting Melrose. "I want to challenge residents to just not put up with things going on in their neighborhood that they know are going on."

    Detectives have no suspects in Monday's killing of Jacobie Spradley, 24. Spradley and four other men were standing in front of 1040 Melrose Ave. S at 6 p.m. when a red car drove up to the intersection. At least one man hopped out and fired an assault rifle down the street. Handgun shells were also recovered. Police ultimately gathered 58 shell casings in all.

    Spradley died from one wound to the chest.

    Police want to know if the shooting was drug-related -- Spradley ended a prison term on cocaine charges in 2001 -- or whether it began with an earlier argument between two families.

    About four hours after Spradley died, two detectives in an unmarked car were seven blocks from the scene, hunting the red car. As they drove west on 14th Avenue S toward 9th Street, they heard rapid gunfire. Three assault rifle bullets hit the car, and one narrowly missed a detective's head.

    Allen Walker, 23; Sisco Ellis, 27; Antonio Mackeroy, 26, and Adell Barnes, 28, ran from the scene and were found hiding in a neighbor's car. They were charged with trespassing and drug possession, not with shooting at the officers.

    Homicide Sgt. Mike Puetz said detectives do not think that the shooting at detectives four hours later was related to the Spradley killing, "but we haven't ruled out the possibility."

    Spradley is the second person this year killed by an assault weapon. The other, Eric Eure, was slain last month.

    "It's a weapon that should cause us great concern," Puetz said.

    Jack Soule, a patrol officer and union president, called the violence "out of control."

    "Until we actually get down in there and start doing some aggressive, pro-active policing, it's going to continue," Soule said. "I don't see how it's going to stop."

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