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Crackdown targets crime, fear

Efforts to nab criminals at Clearwater Trailer City have given some hope , but others aren't as cheery .

By JACOB H. FRIES
Published October 26, 2006


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LARGO - Roy Pitcock says police have recently rooted out some of his neighborhood's worst troublemakers.

But to be safe, he said, he still walks around Clearwater Trailer City with a stun gun in his front pocket.

"We've got everybody here: sex predators, prostitutes, drug dealers," said Pitcock, 32. "And for every three we get rid of, we get another four."

Nevertheless, Pitcock, like several residents in the mobile home park at 1650 Clearwater-Largo Road, said Wednesday that a recent crackdown by Largo police had made a noticeable difference.

For one, drug dealers who once conducted business in the open now have moved to the shadows or disappeared altogether, they said.

"They've been doing a real good job," Pitcock said of police. "But they can't do everything, and to me, it's just a losing battle."

Police officials acknowledge that stamping out such crime is difficult, but say their enforcement efforts are part of a long-range project to improve the Clearwater-Largo Road corridor.

Last month, the Police Department's Problem-Oriented Policing team opened an investigation in Clearwater Trailer City with the cooperation of park's managers. Officers went into the mobile home park in marked cruisers, on bikes and in plain clothes.

The number of arrests quickly hit double digits.

From early September to Oct. 20, police arrested 19 people on charges including prostitution, auto burglary and the sale and possession of drugs. Another six received trespass citations.

Some lived at the park; others were staying there but were not on the lease. And still others were passing through.

The department released the results of its investigation Wednesday.

"We're shooting for a long-term effect," police Capt. Glenn Smith said. "The idea is to bring up the quality of life in these areas while community development tries to encourage new businesses. It's definitely not something that happens overnight."

The trickiest part for police is trying to eliminate the low-level crime - not just move the criminals from one neighborhood into another.

"It's something that we have to keep after," Smith said.

Edward Scott, who manages the mobile home park, praised police, saying that with their help he is now in a better position to get a handle on the problem. In 12 years, he said, he has seen tangible progress at Clearwater Trailer City, which has more than 150 lots. Rents range from $300 to $350 a month.

"I'm not really patting myself on the back," he said. "I really had a hell of mess when I first started, but over the years, we cleaned out the trailers and the people."

Scott said he knew of only one drug dealer still living in the park, but added that he expected that person to be removed in the next two weeks. Told that some residents still believe crime is widespread, Scott said, "I don't think there's any truth to that."

Steven Moreau, 42, who has lived there for nearly 10 years, said nighttime at the park inevitably turns rowdy. People get drunk or high and start fights, he said. One night in March, he called 911 to report some vandalism. While he was on the phone, a friend of the vandal came up from behind and punched him in the face, breaking his jaw in two places, Moreau said.

"Some nights are absolute chaos," he said. "The night I got beat up, I was just trying to stand up and do the right thing."

Alice Mae Bush, 74, was sitting in a lawn chair outside Moreau's home Wednesday, listening as he recounted a decade at the park. She has been living there for only three months, but she's leaving.

"I'm ready to go," said Bush, who planned to go house-hunting on Saturday. "I just can't handle it. I've never lived in a place like this. I live in fear here."

This from a woman who said she shot an intruder six times when he broke into her previous home in St. Petersburg. That incident, she said, had left her with constant fear, which has only grown at Clearwater Trailer City.

Explaining her desire to move, she said, "I'd rather pay a little more and live in peace."

Jacob H. Fries can be reached at 445-4156 or jfries@sptimes.com.

[Last modified October 25, 2006, 22:45:46]


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