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Where people stand determines how South Brooksville sees police

Streets need to be safe.

If they aren't, no businessperson will put real money into a neighborhood. Nobody will want to buy a house there, and people who already own them probably won't put much time or effort into keeping them up. Kids won't see their parents running stores or trimming bushes. They will see plenty of adults selling drugs.

So if you care about your neighborhood, you realize police officers and deputies are your allies. You work with them. You want to keep them around.

This idea seems obvious enough. But it hasn't entirely taken hold in south Brooksville, said the Rev. Clarence Clark, the founder of Shiloh Problem Solvers, which runs programs out of the Sheriff's Office community center on Dr. M.L. King Jr. Boulevard.

Just a block away, under an expansive oak, city police officers used to sit in their patrol cars between calls.

They had a good view down the boulevard. Just by parking there, they controlled speeding and discouraged the kids who had taken to riding dirt bikes down the sidewalk. And if they didn't stop drug dealing, they at least forced it off south Brooksville's main drag.

"The officers were sitting there on a regular basis as a visual deterrent, and it worked,'' Clark said.

He noticed that the cars disappeared from that spot a little more than a month ago. Then, on Saturday morning, a beloved retired schoolteacher, Sarah Davis, was killed in her St. Francis Street home just a few hundred yards away from the old oak.

Clark called Brooksville Police Chief George Turner to find out where the officers had gone. He was told that some residents had objected to the officers' "intimidating'' presence.

Clark's first point, that the officers might have prevented Davis' death, is probably a stretch. There's no evidence of a forced entry or other activity that might have drawn police attention.

But his other point is right on: Nobody should complain about police visibility in a neighborhood devastated by crime.

Turner said the issue is a little more complicated.

Though he received several complaints, including from City Council members Frankie Burnett and Joe Bernardini, they were as much about the officers hanging out in one place as they were about intimidation. Turner just passed on the order to park less and patrol more.

That could be good. The basic principle of working a beat is that the better you get to know your community, the more real tips you're likely to get and the less likely you are to tick people off.

Richard Howell, a community activist who didn't like the parked police officers, also doesn't like the community center.

"You got deputies in and out of there all the time,'' he said. "It's not a community center; it's a substation.''

So, deputies stop in, fill out paperwork, and, while they're there, chat with kids taking computer classes or teenagers studying for their high school equivalency diplomas? To me that sounds great, exactly what law enforcement should be doing in south Brooksville.

The new deployment of city officers is not so good if it means the officers are less visible, if they are spending their time between calls outside of south Brooksville.

No, it's not the only place in town where crimes occur. But it is the only neighborhood where drug dealers commonly try to wave you down as you drive past.

As Howell said, officers may sometimes be too quick to assume every white passer-by is looking to buy drugs. And, of course, there are historical reasons for black people in Brooksville to worry about police harassment.

But, remember, Davis worked for 14 years in a neighborhood Sheriff's Office substation. Her life and tragic death should remind us that criminals, not the police, are the enemy.

• • •

Let's go back nearly a decade, when U.S. Rep. Karen Thurman first secured a federal grant for a hurricane shelter in Hernando County that could double as a gathering place for elderly clients of the Enrichment Center of Hernando County.

Then the county pledged $100,000 for the shelter — money that has been sitting in an account ever since.

Then the deadline for spending the federal money passed; then the state earmarked $600,000 in 2007; then Thurman's replacement, U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, restored the federal grant this year. (Who says all earmarks are bad?) Local firms Coastal Engineering Associates and Civil-Tech Consulting Engineers pitched in design work and now — phew! — we're ready to go.

A two-story shelter will be built on the rock-solid skeleton of an old mine building in Brooksville. With a second, smaller structure next door, there will be enough room for the enrichment center (allowing it to move out of its temporary home at the Jerome Brown Community Center), a mining museum, a pro shop for the Quarry Golf Course and offices for children's tennis and golf programs. The nearby tennis courts will remain open while the work is going on, but the Quarry will be closed until the fall to replace the greens.

"It's going to be a community center where all ages meet,'' said Debbie Druzbick, the enrichment center's executive director.

And, even in these hard times, when recreation budget get slashed … no, especially in these times, we need projects like these as much as we need law enforcement.

Where people stand determines how South Brooksville sees police 05/20/10 [Last modified: Thursday, May 20, 2010 9:24pm]
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