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Even with manhunt, Tampa police cover routine beats

TAMPA — Everyone wants a piece of the manhunt.

But some Tampa police officers still have routine jobs to do.

"It's frustrating," said officer Jason Degagne, "because you just want to go find the person who murdered your friend."

Degagne's comments, made to a St. Petersburg Times reporter this week as he distributed fliers of police-killing suspect Dontae Morris, seem indicative of new attitudes toward the daily grind.

Residents may get the sense that police have stopped concentrating about routine crime amid the largest manhunt in Tampa history. The mayor herself said finding Morris is the city's top priority.

But that perception isn't true, police say. Even though several units are assigned to the search, the same number of officers are on patrol, responding to complaints and break-ins and drug sales just like always.

"We have the city covered for normal patrol," police Chief Jane Castor said at a Thursday news conference. "The citizens are receiving a level of service from the Police Department that they have become accustomed to."

Countywide jail records don't show a steep decline in arrests made this week compared with the past few months. Still, something is off.

From June 1 to Monday, the number of arrests daily ranged from 151 to 206. But arrests have not exceeded 125 since officers Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis were killed on Tuesday.

One explanation is that officers have saturated high-crime areas, discouraging bad behavior.

"Obviously, there's going to be less crime," said police spokeswoman Andrea Davis.

Rick Cochran, Tampa Police Benevolent Association senior vice president, said he keeps tabs of police activity from a radio at home. At one point this week, he thought his radio was defective because it was so quiet.

"It's crazy," he said.

Special investigations units dealing with narcotics, rapid offender control, or ROC, and latent investigations are among the teams most focused on Morris.

Davis said police will pull officers on the ROC squad from the search only if a burglary or similar case is in progress or has hot leads. But even if that happens, she said, another law enforcement member will take that officer's place in the search.

"And that's why we're lucky," she said.

Castor says the shootings have not distracted investigators from zeroing in on making arrests in nearly two dozen arsons around the V.M. Ybor neighborhood. Last week, Mayor Pam Iorio said an arrest was "imminent." This week, that ordeal has been overshadowed by the shootings.

Several Tampa neighborhood association leaders said they do not feel neglected by police.

Historic Ybor Neighborhood Civic Association president Tony LaColla said even if police have slimmed some patrols to focus on Morris, it's understandable.

"They may have, but it's not visible," LaColla said. "As long as I still see the cops out on the street, I'm happy."

Times staff writers Shelley Rossetter and Kim Wilmath contributed to this report.

Even with manhunt, Tampa police cover routine beats 07/02/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 2, 2010 11:08pm]

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