Frustration along 49th
The street between Gulfport and St. Petersburg is fraught with concerns.
By NICK JOHNSON
Published June 17, 2007
Forty-ninth Street S serves as the boundary between St. Petersburg and Gulfport, two very different cities with different police departments.
It doesn't serve as a boundary against crime, but is an example of the confusion and frustration that can arise when one problem overlaps two jurisdictions.
In Gulfport, problems arise when business owners and workers see crimes being committed along the corridor or as music blares from nearby cars but the police there have little control over what goes on across the street.
Some of the businesses along the Gulfport side of 49th Street are particularly concerned about the Quick Stop Food Store on the corner of 15th Avenue S, which has been a busy spot for as long as anyone can remember.
"The neighborhood people have been hanging out on the corner of that store for God knows how long, " said Pat Patterson, a St. Petersburg police officer.
Patterson, a former community officer in that area, said that it wasn't much of a problem. But some business owners on the Gulfport side disagree. They are concerned about loitering, noise and what appears to be an open air drug trade, which they say is affecting their businesses.
Just across the street from the convenience store, Save on Seafood employees have a perfect view of the Quick Stop parking lot.
Sales clerk Michelle Mayer and manager George Brown say they always see people hanging out in the parking lot and that it appears that drugs and cash frequently change hands.
"A lot of drug dealing on that side of the street, although I couldn't prove it, " Brown said, pointing toward St. Petersburg.
"You can watch them, " Mayer agreed. "We see them all day long."
Helena Josephs, who owns Island Flavors, on the Gulfport side, said she hasn't had any problems in her restaurant but thinks the activity across the street scares off customers.
"I do see a huge drop in sales after 7 because of what's going on over there, " Josephs said. "If I was a customer I wouldn't come here after 7 p.m."
Police in Gulfport are aware of the complaints and say they are doing everything they can.
St. Petersburg officials also reached out months ago when Assistant Chief Luke Williams and Deputy Mayor Goliath Davis attended a Gulfport Crime Watch meeting.
The departments say they are working together to try to solve some of the problems in the area. Business owners on both sides of the street said they had been visited by officers from both cities.
"They have told us they are trying to work together, to try to get a tighter grip on the whole situation, " Josephs said.
She and other business owners in Gulfport said the police have had a strong presence recently on their side of the street.
Lt. Rob Vincent of the Gulfport Police Department attended a recent crime watch meeting and heard from residents and business owners.
"A lot of people were complaining about issues that unfortunately we cannot address on the Gulfport side, " he said.
Although Gulfport police can cross into St. Petersburg to stop or prevent a blatant crime, they cannot enforce noise violations or problems like loitering.
The issue of liability comes into play when intervening in what may look like a drug deal from across the street.
Vincent said an officer has to be certain before making a call to St. Petersburg. "For a patrol officer to be able to testify that he had enough information to make a stop based on a drug transaction, he would probably have to actually see the drugs."
"If we see something that looks like it's obviously a drug transaction, we can do the same thing we're encouraging our residents to do, " Vincent said, which is to notify St. Petersburg police.
Vincent said St. Petersburg police officers also have a lot more on their plate and are likely to make violent crimes a higher priority than noise, loitering or small-time drug deals.
In the middle of all the action is the owner of the Quick Stop.
Ashraf Abdelrahman said he is well aware of the problems outside his business and he is frustrated that there doesn't seem to be an easy solution.
"Of course I would be happy to get rid of them, because that would be much better for business, " he said about the people who loiter and cause disturbances.
But in the time it takes for police to respond, the offenders can easily disappear or simply cross the street.
Abdelrahman said he could easily call the police more than 10 times a day but he tries to scare offenders off on his own. "I look at it this way, " he said, "if I keep calling the police and they don't do anything, it's more headache for me."
Lt. Bill Korinek, who is the evening watch commander for the district, said calls from that location didn't appear to be a problem. And records don't show any calls so far this year regarding narcotics.
Korinek said if residents or business owners of either city see illegal activities happening, they need to call and report them so the police can take action.
"There's nothing to prevent a Gulfport resident from calling our community service line and saying, 'Look, I drive by here and I see this happening, ' " he said. "We'll take the call and act on it as if they were one of our own citizens."
Ernie Stone, who leads the Gulfport Crime Watch, said he feels for Abdelrahman's plight but that the police are not always the answer.
"It's not the police's responsibility; it's the owner's responsibility, " he said. His advice was to hire a security company to keep the parking lot under control.
Abdelrahman said he plans to have a video surveillance system installed in coming weeks, including 16 cameras to cover the inside of his store, the exterior and parking lot.
Korinek also plans to assign patrols to monitor the lot.
Nick Johnson can be reached at email@example.com or 893-8361.
By the numbers
72 Crimes reported in 2006 between 11th and 18th avenues S and 43rd and 49th streets
58 Crimes reported in that same area thus far in 2007
63 Calls from the Quick Stop at 1440 49th St. S to St. Petersburg police in 2006
11Of those, calls for trouble with individual
4Calls for trespassing
4Calls for brawling
3Calls for drug law violations
[Last modified June 16, 2007, 21:24:48]
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