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Neighborhood Report

Law aimed at drug sales picks up support

The ordinance would allow police to arrest people exchanging small packages for money or repeatedly entering and exiting different cars.

By RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 24, 2003


A proposed ordinance aimed at cracking down on street-level drug dealers is winning support from leaders in South Tampa area neighborhoods.

But they're not expecting miracles.

"This could help," said Robert Allen, president of the North Hyde Park Civic Association. "But as far as eradicating (the problem), I have a dim picture."

If passed by the City Council, the ordinance would allow police to arrest people exchanging small packages for money or repeatedly entering and exiting different cars. The council debated the proposal last week and was expected to vote in favor of it Thursday. A second vote is needed before it becomes law.

Tampa police strongly support the plan.

Drug dealers have adapted to existing laws like killer viruses have adapted to serums, said Cpl. Kenny Norris, a member of the Tampa Police Department's drug-fighting Quad Squad.

"The virus has become immune," Norris told the council Jan. 16. "We, too, must learn to adapt . . . to control this infection."

More than three dozen residents from across the city showed up to give their support, outnumbering a handful of people concerned about the law infringing on civil liberties.

"It will get them off the streets," said Kennedy Watson from Carver City, a predominantly black neighborhood south of International Plaza.

Other southside residents, while supportive, want to see more attention paid to the root of the matter. Kids aren't born looking to turn street corners into illegal drug markets, they said.

"There are bigger issues," said Carrol Marshall, president of the V.M. Ybor Neighborhood Association.

Among other woes, Marshall and Allen pointed to a lack of affordable housing and good-paying jobs.

"I thought the Quad Squad was one of the best things to happen. It still is," Allen said of the police unit, which got rolling in 1989. "But we have the same problems."

City officials balked last week at deciding whether to enforce the ordinance citywide or to restrict it to areas known for high drug activity.

Some areas just north of Kennedy Boulevard and downtown would be affected either way, according to a Tampa police analysis. Among them: North Hyde Park, West Tampa, Carver City and Ybor City.

Only one area south of Kennedy -- in Interbay -- is considered a hot zone for drug sales.

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

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