TAMPA — It was the middle of the afternoon. Kids played basketball on Timberlane Park's concrete court. And in the parking lot barely a free throw away, a couple of gang members conducted business.
But Joshua Medina and Ladell Mitchell's business partners actually were undercover officers.
A strategy to target high-crime areas with undercover and uniformed officers as well as with community support is working, Hillsborough County sheriff Maj. Albert Frost said at a gang graffiti paint-out and warrant roundup Thursday morning at Timberlane Park.
The roundup, which started at 5 a.m., netted 29 people charged with 70 offenses including violation of probation, dealing in stolen property and drug crimes.
With a backdrop of 28 mug shots, Frost talked about targeting gang activity in the area.
"We have a huge jail on Orient Road and you will never see a 'no vacancy' sign," he said.
Frost said the approach is part of a pilot program called intelligence-led policing, where resources are concentrated to a known high-crime area. Frost said neighbors' complaints over the last few months helped lead to the crackdown.
There are about 115 gangs and 2,600 people associated with gangs in the county, Frost said, but he rejected the notion that the area has a gang problem.
There is, however, active recruitment of young kids by gangs, he said.
Two of the gangs are the TC Boys and Timberlane Bloods.
The rival gang's graffiti litters fences, walls and street signs. Some of it includes Folk Nation pitchforks, cryptic lettering in red spray paint and a cartoon bird.
Brian Miller, the manager at Marine Warehouse, has noticed the gang tags on walls close to the business.
"You got to have it painted over," Miller said. If not, other gangs will come around with their tags, he said. Miller pointed out two broken windows on the second floor of the warehouse and a Chevy van parked out front of a garage bay door that gang members tried to steal.
Carlton Lewis is an activist who has lived in the neighborhood since 1989. He helped form a civic association, community crime watch and emphasizes vigilance among his neighbors. Lewis also had some words for gang members.
"We are not like ostriches sticking our heads in the sand," Lewis said.
He added: "Go away. Get a life. Get a job. Be real. We are not going to let you hang around."
Jared Leone can be reached at (813) 269-5314 or firstname.lastname@example.org.