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Drug sales and crime frustrate neighbors

Residents looking for relief say the problem is escalating. Police say they're doing what they can.

By RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 18, 2002


Every night, Roosevelt Willingham drives his van a half-mile to the convenience store he and his wife own on Hubert Avenue.

He doesn't like doing it. But after three attempted burglaries on the store this year, Willingham decided he had no other choice.

"I'm sick and tired," he said last week. "One of these days, I'm going to catch them."

Willingham said the burglaries go hand-in-hand with a growing problem in crack cocaine sales -- and the failure of police to beef up patrols.

"When it comes to my business, I'm my own patrol," he said. "When it comes to the neighborhood, there is no patrol."

Officials with the Tampa Police Department said they're doing their best. But, they said, Carver City isn't the only neighborhood where open-air drug deals are part of the landscape.

"We're active over there," said Cpl. Kenny Norris, a member of TPD's drug-fighting Quad Squad. "It's just time and patience, and hopefully the good Lord is watching over us."

Crack isn't new to Carver City. But some residents say the problem is getting worse.

One hot spot: Hubert Avenue, a few blocks north of Cypress Street.

On most nights after 11, as many as 20 young people gather. Some are obviously waiting for customers.

"You see it when you drive by ... different transactions," said the Rev. Kennedy Watson, vice president of the Carver City/Lincoln Gardens Civic Association.

Many deals occur just feet from where a Hillsborough sheriff's patrol car is parked in a carport.

"It's real hectic," said Robert Session, 49, one of few residents who agreed to give his name.

But there have been no fights or shootings, he said. And the dealers agreed when he asked them to respect his property.

They're not a problem "as long as they don't bother me," he said.

Other residents fear things will get worse.

The dealers "don't have any respect for the people here," said one man, who declined to give his name for fear of retaliation.

Drugs and crime are a regular topic at neighborhood meetings. Willingham and Watson meet weekly to decide who to call next for help.

Police are frustrated, too.

They arrested three people near Hubert in the past two weeks, all on drug charges.

But when they focus on one drug drive-through, dealers move to another, Norris said.

"They're not dummies," he said. "They adjust."

-- Ron Matus can be reached at 226-3405 or matus@sptimes.com.

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