MADEIRA BEACH — Worry about drug trafficking, home break-ins and other neighborhood crimes brought nearly 50 residents to City Hall on Wednesday to hear advice from Chief Deputy Bob Gualtieri and a contingent of Sheriff's Office representatives.
"We need for you to be our eyes and ears," Gualtieri told the residents, stressing there is little the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office can do to control crime if criminal acts are not reported.
Prescription drug abuse and trafficking is a growing problem throughout the county, Gualtieri said.
"In 2010 Pinellas County led all counties in Florida in the number of overdose deaths," he said. "The drug problem is worse now than it was in the 1980s or 1990s."
As Gualtieri listened to residents worried about drug dealers operating in their neighborhoods and whether it is safe to walk their streets at night, Gualtieri sympathized and promised his deputies.
"One way or another, we are going to fix it," Gualtieri said. "We will fix it."
Residents living on side streets along the west side of Gulf Boulevard regularly complain to the City Commission about what they see as growing crime in their neighborhoods.
Earlier this month, resident Donna Thompson asked "how long" it would take for the drug dealers to be removed from her street.
Another resident, Tom Poe, described the city as a place for "drunks and drug addicts to play, work and make a little money."
Sheriff's Office Cpl. Dave DiSano told residents attending the Neighborhood Watch meeting that deputies were well aware of drug dealing issues on both 145th and 147th avenues.
"We are already on it, and we are making a difference out there," DiSano said.
Mayor Travis Palladeno confirmed Thursday that drug-related activity in city neighborhoods has declined in recent weeks.
"They have stepped up patrols, and things have quieted down. It has slowly been improving," Palladeno said.
Earlier this month residents along 145th Avenue demanded the commission pass a new, tougher code enforcement law that would give the city the ability to levy stiff fines on property owners and force them to evict renters who repeatedly are arrested and convicted for criminal activity.
The commission is planning to hold a special workshop Oct. 24 on the proposed code enforcement ordinance and is expected to address how that ordinance will enhance crime-fighting efforts by the Sheriff's Office.
Since January, there have been 476 crimes investigated in Madeira Beach, not counting traffic accidents and minor complaints, according to the Sheriff's Office website.
Of those, there were 205 crimes that involved burglaries (79), robberies (3), and thefts (123).
The majority of specific crimes investigated involved trespassing (124) and vandalism (86). Only three crimes involved weapons.
Surprisingly, given the residents' complaints of drug trafficking, no drug-related crimes were listed. Sgt. Tom Nestor of the Sheriff's Office explained that tips called in by residents do not show up on the website.