tampabay.com

Way to go, Ridgecrest, for staring down thugs

By Times editorial
Published May 8, 2007


It should not have been necessary for the Ridgecrest neighborhood near Largo to organize and to make noise to get the full attention of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

That neighborhood's historic problems with drugs and other crimes should have been enough to keep the Sheriff's Office consistently, visibly and deeply involved in the neighborhood.

However, law-abiding Ridgecrest residents saw a marked decline in the level of safety in the neighborhood in recent months. More people were dealing and buying drugs on the streets, more residents were being robbed or their homes burglarized, and their personal property was being snatched right from their yards, no doubt to be converted to cash for drug purchases.

In March something happened that seemed to push residents to new action.

For many years, senior citizens had been bused into the neighborhood daily to eat lunch at the Ridgecrest Community Center. But in March, the seniors eating lunch there heard gunfire not far from the center. The seniors and the luncheon organizers were frightened and decided the location was no longer safe. The daily luncheons were moved out of the neighborhood.

It is appalling that the situation in Ridgecrest deteriorated to such a level, especially with an elementary school in the heart of the neighborhood.

But residents responded in the best way possible: They got organized, showed a united front and got busy helping the Sheriff's Office bust the bad guys.

One of the leaders was the Rev. Edward "BeBe" Hobson, associate pastor at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Ridgecrest. Hobson was embarrassed for his community, so he set up a meeting at his church. He sent out fliers and welcomed all residents and deputies. Some 150 people showed up - a phenomenal number for the neighborhood, and an indication of the amount of worry there is in Ridgecrest. Another such meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. today at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, 13225 118th St. N, and like the previous meeting will focus on how to combat crime in Ridgecrest.

Another person who helped organize the residents is the Rev. Bernard Smith, pastor of Greene Chapel AME Church. Smith scheduled an antidrug march for Good Friday, April 6, to bring attention to the drug problem. Greene Chapel has worked hard to address needs in the Ridgecrest neighborhood; the church even got a license to be a testing site for HIV.

Thanks to the leadership and example of Hobson and Smith and a few others who have stepped up, residents are working hard to help deputies arrest the perpetrators of crime in Ridgecrest.

"People are now writing down tag numbers and calling the cops, " Hobson said.

It takes a great deal of trust for a neighborhood like Ridgecrest to work with law enforcement, because there can be repercussions from those whose self-interest is served by continuing the crime wave. But Ridgecrest residents have been so affected by the amount of crime in their neighborhood that "they're willing to do whatever it takes, " said sheriff's Capt. Wayne Morris.

The best things Ridgecrest residents can do to bring peace to their streets is to show up in big numbers for community meetings, fully support those volunteers who have taken on leadership roles and keep tipping off the Sheriff's Office. They should also keep in touch with Pinellas County officials.

The criminal element in Ridgecrest counts on being able to intimidate residents into silence. Turning out in big numbers and standing shoulder to shoulder shows them that Ridgecrest won't be cowed.