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Civic group wages war on drugs

A former ironworker and his neighbors are the eyes and ears for Tampa police. Today they march.

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 21, 2002

TAMPA -- They watch as he patrols the street. They glare from their porches, cars and bicycles.

One man yells from his car. Another wags his eyebrows as he passes by on his bike.

David West knows their faces. They are drug dealers and buyers, some as young as 11.

"They don't care much for me," said West, vice president of the North Tampa Community Crime Watch and Civic Association.

He keeps tabs on them.

"They seem to gravitate from one corner to another," said the 48-year-old former ironworker who lives on 109th Avenue.

Armed with notepads and pepper spray, West and some of his neighbors cruise the streets writing code violations and watching for drug deals and other suspicious activities they then report to police.

To rally support, West and the 28 members of the civic association will hold an antidrug march today at the Holy Temple Church at 1215 E 109th Ave. At 6:30 p.m., marchers will travel down E 109th Avenue, hitting troubled areas on Chilkoot, Seneca and Bougainvillea avenues.

The roughest areas are along E Linebaugh Avenue and Wilma Street, West said. He's shooed drug dealers from around his house and hopes to get them completely out of the neighborhood. The community is a mix of duplexes and single-family homes. On some streets, garbage cans have become a fixture in front of the homes, and duplexes are boarded up.

West looked past a broken table in one yard, pointing to a broken-down taxicab in another.

"I plan on turning that in to code enforcement today," he said.

That's what he and a group of neighbors do.

"They're the eyes and ears for the Police Department," said Capt. Marion Lewis of the Tampa Police Department's Quick Uniform Attack on Drugs bureau, or QUAD squad. Lewis meets with the group once a month to listen to the residents' complaints and concerns.

"It's refreshing to have people who are concerned about their neighborhood," Lewis said. Lewis, who has patrolled the north Tampa area for 22 years, said he's seen the neighborhood change drastically with the influx of drugs in the mid 1980s. Helen Zimmerman, 62, said she struggles to get some of her Aster Avenue neighbors to keep their yards clean.

She hopes the march will get more neighbors involved in the welfare of the community.

"I think we can make a difference," Zimmerman said. "We just need enough people to want to make a difference. We can clean this place up."

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