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Southeast Seminole Heights residents decry increase in prostitution

SOUTHEAST SEMINOLE HEIGHTS — On a recent evening in Southeast Seminole Heights, Michael Ferlita drove by six prostitutes standing on the corner of Nebraska Avenue, about 1 1/2 blocks from his home. It's nothing new in an area that for years has been known for such activity.

But for Ferlita, 45, this was different. The police had cleaned up the neighborhood for a while, but Ferlita says the number of prostitutes has increased dramatically over the past several months, and he's getting sick of shooing them away.

"It's come back like a swarm of bees, and we're kind of getting short of patience," he said.

A slew of residents have written their frustrations on neighborhood blogs and even sent a media release by e-mail Tuesday titled "Seminole Heights Neighbors are becoming outraged with TPD." The police aren't doing enough, and Mayor Pam Iorio had not responded to their complaint letters earlier this week, the e-mail said.

Neighbors were considering an organized protest at City Hall.

But Maj. Gerald Honeywell of the Tampa Police Department said the stretch of Nebraska in Southeast Seminole Heights has always been a problem, and he hasn't noticed a drastic increase. In August, he said, police arrested 17 prostitutes.

Authorities see a lot of the same people on the streets, with some prostitutes and johns coming from as far as Clearwater, Lakeland, Sarasota and even Zephyrhills. Typically, when the police step up pressure, the prostitutes just move to surrounding neighborhoods.

"We've never been able to figure out why they pick this area," Honeywell said.

In response to the complaints, police hope to augment their partnership with the Seminole Heights Neighborhood Watch Patrol program.

The neighborhood program was effective for its first five years, said Sherry Genovar-Simons, president of the Southeast Seminole Heights Civic Association. She thinks the downturn in the economy may have caused the resurgence of prostitutes.

Police and the neighborhood association will meet at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Police Department's District 3 office, 3808 N 22nd St., to discuss a plan of attack. Honeywell said the patrol program could involve officers riding along with residents in their vehicles, rather than marked cruisers, searching the area for violators.

"The best thing to do is just work together," Honeywell said. "We've already stepped up the patrol, but we need to get the citizens involved."

Ferlita said the plan is dangerous, and residents shouldn't be asked to take the matter into their own hands.

"No tax-paying citizen should be responsible for cleaning up illegal acts on the streets," he said.

Genovar-Simons disagrees: "We live on every street, and we see what goes on," she said. "They could put a million TPD officers, and they wouldn't see what we see on a day-in and day-out situation."

Eric Smithers can be reached at (813) 226-3339 or at esmithers@sptimes.com.

Southeast Seminole Heights residents decry increase in prostitution 09/25/08 [Last modified: Sunday, September 28, 2008 12:20pm]
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