It was a show of arms last night at the Tampa Heights Civic Association's first police neighborhood roll call. The folded arms of nine attentive officers met the gesturing arms of 16 local residents who reflexively pointed in this direction and that as they itemized a laundry list of neighborhood crime spots.
One trouble spot mentioned to the cops is a house directly across street from the roll call's venue, 300 East Design furniture and home décor store. Business owner Charles Billi said that drug dealers are operating from the house.
“It is not undercover,” Billi said in the tone of someone who's had enough. “It is blatant. Whatever you guys need from us stake outs from here, surveillance...you've got it. We support you 100 percent.”
Other residents gathered at 300 East also complained to the officers about other nearby drug dens, speeding ATV riders, and gang fights.
Roll call leader Sgt. Chris Ugles took notes and relayed complaints to the appropriate officer gathered around him, depending on neighborhood location. He pledged delegation, follow-ups and action to the residents.
“This is your community,” he told them. “We appreciate having you as our eyes and ears.”
Neighborhood roll calls are coordinated between police and residents and held at local businesses and homes to increase crime awareness and deter criminal activity in higher crime areas.
Ugles also used the occasion to announced the police department's new Prostitution Exclusion Zone, or PEZ corridor, which makes it easier for cops to charge repeat offender prostitutes with felony violation of probation within the zone. Ugles said the PEZ boundaries stretch from Fowler to Seventh avenues, and Nebraska Avenue to 15th Street.
Ugles also announced that the Tampa Police Department has a new Twitter account.
“You all here might show up in our next Tweet,” he said.
Since the early 1990s, Tampa Heights has been touted as Tampa's next historic neighborhood to re-gentrify, after Seminole Heights and Hyde Park. And while several pockets within the neighborhood now boast meticulously restored old houses, other areas remain dilapidated and crime-ridden.
“It's busy,” Ugles said of Tampa Heights' overall crime rate. “I wouldn't compare it to Ybor City on a Friday or Saturday night, but on average we stay very busy.”
Tampa Heights Civic Association president Gail Smiley said that rainy weather probably put a damper on the evening's attendance. But for the neighborhood's first roll call, “It went great. It looks like a lot of great information was traded between residents and the officers.”