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Crime shifts with Tampa neighborhood

West Shore area malls

When you look at numbers for the West Shore district, which includes International Plaza and WestShore Plaza, crime is surprisingly low. Although most shoplifting occurs in big box stores and malls, not much is going on here.

Police say that's due to initiatives during the holidays when public service announcements remind shoppers not to leave purchases in their cars. Also, Tampa police say they gear up for the holidays by staffing the malls with extra personnel including school resource officers, who can spot troublesome teens, and a mounted patrol, which can see over the sea of cars in parking lots to spot criminals attempting smash and grabs.

Shoplifting? That's not much of a problem

The Channel District, Harbor Island and downtown rank low when it comes to shoplifting despite housing retail centers such as Channelside Bay Plaza. Police say most shoplifting happens in malls and superstores, not the tiny boutiques and bookstores prevalent downtown.



'Private' cops

Affluence helps when it comes to crime. In several neighborhoods like Hyde Park Preservation, where the city says the per capita income is $77,197, the neighborhood association hires an off-duty police officer to patrol blocks during late-night and pre-dawn hours, neighborhood watch coordinator Lincoln Tamayo said. Other neighborhoods that hire officers are Culbreath Isles, Culbreath Bayou and New Suburb Beautiful. But, Tamayo said, Hyde Park's low crime rate also has much to do with it being a "front porch" neighborhood, where homeowners constantly watch out for each other. "If anything looks out of the ordinary, we're not shy at all," Tamayo said. "We're an urban neighborhood. … But for urban neighborhoods this is a very, very safe place to live."



Credit card fraud

Economic crimes, such as credit card fraud are a problem, but not one that local police can gauge. When a credit card is stolen, owners contact banks or banks contact owners — rarely does anyone file a report with the local police department. Still, police have added an additional officer within the past year to deal with the increased reports of credit card fraud, check fraud, embezzlement and other economic scams and illegal schemes.

Sex offenses

Drew Park, known for its adult businesses, led the city in nonforcible sex offenses: 12. Cleaning up Drew Park became a city initiative in 2007, when the City Council earmarked tax dollars to monitor the neighborhood's adult businesses and crack down on sex offenses. Beginning in May 2008, police launched stings that led to lewd behavior arrests for crimes such as the exposure of sexual organs or simulating sexual acts. Police Chief Jane said stings led to the number of nonregulated adult businesses dropping from 10 to zero.

Prostitution

Crime rankings in Old Seminole Heights may surprise those who have watched the community transform from a historic neighborhood surrounded by garages and rundown strip malls into a consistent landing spot for community-minded independent restaurants, coffee shops and neighborhood pubs.

Despite the rejuvenation, Old Seminole Heights — one of three neighborhoods within the larger Seminole Heights community — had an average four simple assault arrests and drug arrests a week.

"Those numbers aren't completely surprising," said Shawn Hicks, president of the Old Seminole Heights Neighborhood Association. As a contributing factor, he pointed to the neighborhood's size. It has more homes than the incorporated city of Temple Terrace.

What did surprise him was that Old Seminole Heights had almost triple the number of prostitution arrests — 165 — than the next highest-ranking neighborhood.

Nebraska Avenue, a main thoroughfare, has historically been the prostitutes' haven. Over the years, Hicks and others formed "hooker patrols" and night-time dog walking groups to take back their streets. They would shine flashlights on street walkers and solicitors. Police also launched undercover initiatives with great success, Hicks said.

"If we're still No. 1," he said, "prostitution must have gone way down in the city (overall) or you all are counting numbers that aren't in our neighborhood." He hasn't seen condom wrappers or prostitutes like he used to and receives few complaints nowadays.

Police Chief Jane Castor said there's a reason for that. "The number of arrests mean we're out there enforcing it on a regular basis so the public doesn't have to see it," said Castor, who has lived in Seminole Heights for decades.

Prostitution remains an enforcement priority on Nebraska Avenue, she said, and police regularly send out undercover officers as both prostitutes and solicitors.

Liquor violations

Liquor law violations seem common in neighborhoods such as Bon Air, Davis Islands and Ballast Point. But the majority of those charges don't stem from bars but from open container violations, most of which can be attributed to homeless people.

Crime shifts with Tampa neighborhood 04/08/10 [Last modified: Thursday, April 8, 2010 4:45pm]
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