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Residents grill police, sheriff

South Brooksville residents and law enforcement officials begin a frank discussion on how to eradicate deadly drug activity from their neighborhoods.

By JAMIE MALERNEE

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2001


BROOKSVILLE -- When Kariletha Roundtree Moore travels to and from her house on Twigg Street, she doesn't take the simplest route. She tries to find the safest one.

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[Times photo: Kevin White]
South Brooksville resident Ernest Drake holds his 20-month old daughter Tavis while he and others fill out a questionnaire at the beginning of the meeting.
"I'm scared for my life," she told a group of law enforcement and government authorities Wednesday night at a meeting meant to address the growing drug problem in south Brooksville. "The drug dealers are there from Thursday to Sunday, parked everywhere. If I say anything to them, they threaten me."

The meeting at Kennedy Park, initiated by two Brooksville residents, was set up to start a dialogue about how government officials and residents can work together to lower crime. So far this year, three people have been shot in the area.

In retrospect, many of those who attended the meeting said it was an unusually frank exchange -- in fact, brutally honest at times -- in which grievances, problems and possible solutions were aired by all groups.

"I didn't see anybody pull any punches," Brooksville resident Doug Davis said with a chuckle. "I'm excited about this. I think something positive will come from it."

But no one said it would be easy or quick. There was a lot of lingering resentment by residents at the meeting regarding past injustices, including promises made and broken by government officials to help improve area housing, streets and sewers. The meeting began with representatives from the Hernando County Sheriff's Office and the Brooksville Police Department telling these residents that they need to do more. Then, one by one, residents stood up and voiced their own concerns -- pointing fingers at drug dealers, police, government officials and, finally, themselves.

"We're not doing our part," said the Rev. David Stewart of St. James Missionary Baptist Church. "We talk a good game. The city and county talk a good game. . . . We've all got to do more."

Some of the heaviest criticism, however, was leveled at Brooksville police. David Magalski, general partner of a company that runs Tanglewood Apartments, stood up and told Chief Ed Tincher that his force was a joke and of no help to him. As the owner of 30 properties throughout Florida, he said most of his apartments have a 2 percent vacancy, but Tanglewood has so many drug dealers loitering outside that the vacancy rate there is at 37 percent.

"I'm hearing you say we have to get involved. We have been involved. But my complaints fall on deaf ears," Magalski shouted. "The drug dealers are scared of the Sheriff's Office, but they're not scared of Brooksville (police). With them, they know they're safe; they can't be touched. We do not get the police protection we need in the city."

As Magalski spoke, several amens rose up from the crowd. Later, Tincher said that some of Magalski's comments were the result of a difference of opinion.

In 2000, Tincher said his officers went out to Tanglewood 268 times. This year, they have been out 25 times. The problem, he said, isn't that the department isn't responding but that when officers go out, the drug dealers see them and scatter.

"They disperse, they go inside, they hide. And then we don't have anything to substantiate a complaint," Tincher said Thursday after the meeting. "And as soon as we leave, they come back out. And then we have a frustrated complainant."

After Wednesday's meeting, Tincher and Tanglewood officials met and hashed out some possible solutions, Tincher said. The police are recommending the complex take more security measures, such as installing cameras and moving the manager to the front of the area. The police, in turn, will try to be more responsive.

"I've told (Mr. Magalski) to contact me directly if he has any more concerns about whether we're doing our job," the chief said.

Other concrete suggestions also came out of the meeting, although some problems addressed were well beyond the scope of law enforcement -- for example, the unavailability of jobs for youngsters otherwise attracted to life on the street.

Hernando County Sheriff Richard Nugent told residents of plans to build a substation in the south Brooksville area to make law enforcement presence more visible. He also said he would be willing to donate agency cars to residents willing to take part in a citizen patrol.

Some residents were wary of this idea for safety reasons, but others nodded their heads at the suggestion. Many of them, in turn, suggested that the area needed more recreational facilities for children that were in walking distance since so many of the neighborhood families do not have a reliable car. This would give children something to do instead of get into trouble, they said.

Another subject was racism. Officers spoke of the difficulty of policing an area where they are often accused of being prejudiced when conducting their investigations. Specifically, the sheriff mentioned a time when his agency tried to address problems surrounding the bar the Taurian Experience Lounge by beefing up patrol and ticketing illegally parked cars. In return, their motivations were questioned.

"When we try to go out there and do the right thing, people come out and say we're racists, that Deputy Pope is a racist," Nugent said, motioning to Pope, a black member of the force who lives and works in the south Brooksville area. "Not one person came to our defense. Not one. We're trying to do our job. We will give you what you want. What do you want?"

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