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Stepped up antidrug efforts are paying off in Ridgecrest

The Sheriff's Office, with help from residents, is driving the dealers and users out of the neighborhood just south of Largo.

By NICOLE HUTCHESON
Published May 11, 2007


RIDGECREST - When Rose Gordon noticed teens were jumping her fence and using the front yard of one of her rental properties as a hangout she tried just about everything to stop it.

She put a glue chemical on the fence, looked at installing electric wire and even glued her mailbox shut to keep them from stashing drugs inside.

"They'd get a chair or milk crates and just try to take over the property," said Gordon, 70.

Now the retired schoolteacher says she is seeing fewer and fewer kids on her property.

That's good news to Pinellas County sheriff's Lt. Adrian Arnold. It means he's doing something right.

Arnold is leading the effort to rid the Ridgecrest neighborhood of crime. And he's doing it street by street with a lot of help from the community. A couple of weekends ago, deputies arrested 18 people on drug-related charges. More crackdowns are planned.

"We don't want to go into the area and work hard for 30 days and then completely leave the area to let things get to the point where they were before," Arnold said.

Gordon's problem and those of other residents were discussed at a community meeting Tuesday night at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church.

More than 100 showed up for the meeting, which included county and law enforcement officials. It's one of the first meetings in a newly formed relationship between law enforcement and residents of the neighborhood.

At the meeting, sheriff's deputies flashed slides of mug shots of drug dealers and buyers arrested in the area on the wall above the pulpit.

"If you see the people on the screen call the cops," said sheriff's Capt. Wayne Morris.

Police officials also presented information gathered from residents about their concerns and informed them of what efforts were under way to clean up the area.

Chief among residents' concerns: the safety of their children walking to and from Ridgecrest Elementary, abandoned properties and illegal activity in Ridgecrest Park.

To combat the problems, Arnold said, he and other deputies had gone into some of the trouble spots wearing plainclothes to better assess the problem. They also have increased patrols of those areas.

"Our plan of action is to go in and maintain a presence in the area," Arnold said. "We want to try and prevent or suppress some of the things that are going on."

A hefty dose of neighborhood support also will be needed to keep up the police work. Residents were provided with the phone numbers of deputies assigned to the area as well as a drug hotline to call about illegal activity.

"Very few crimes go without a witness," Morris said. "Somebody needs to pick up the phone and give the detective the one piece of information he may need."

The Rev. Edward "BeBe" Hobson, associate pastor at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, helped organize the first meeting at Shiloh in April. Hobson commented on how community support has grown over time.

"I remember a time when we tried to organize a neighborhood watch and there were three or four people there," Hobson told the crowd.

Meetings like the one Tuesday night will occur quarterly. But individual communities in Ridgecrest will meet monthly to discuss crime issues.

"I hope this last month wasn't something for a quick fix," Hobson said. "I hope we continue to do something to make Ridgecrest a safe place to work, play and live."

Nicole Hutcheson can be reached at nhutcheson@sptimes.com or 727445-4162.

FYI

Crime watch

For more information on Ridgecrest Crime Watch, call Pinellas County Community Service Crime Prevention at (727) 582-5616.