TAMPA — On Wednesday, the county rolled out its latest strategy in battling gang activity: a $103,000 customized Ford F-550.
The heavy-duty truck is equipped with a professional-grade painting system, pressure washer, 125-gallon water tank, generator and other tools — all designed to remove and paint over graffiti.
"The gangs communicate by graffiti," said statewide prosecutor Nick Cox, at Wednesday's unveiling near N Falkenburg Road. "It's time that, when a gang marks that it's their territory, we're able to come in quickly and say, 'No, it's ours.' "
A Justice Department grant paid for the special truck, which has been in the county's sights since summer. Code enforcement officers will do their first sweep Friday, just south of Plant City.
Robert O'Neill, the new U.S. attorney for Florida's Middle District, also attended the truck's debut and praised the coordinated effort to dismantle gangs before they become a major problem.
"This is not New York in the '70s or L.A. in the '80s," he said. "But if you hit it before it takes root, we'll be a lot better off."
The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office estimates there are 120 gangs and about 5,000 gang members throughout the county.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at (813) 226-3433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.