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Some Tampa Bay residents in London say daytime activities go on despite nights of unrest

TAMPA — Some Tampa Bay area residents living in London, and natives returning there, weren't especially concerned Tuesday with the four nights of riots and unrest that have swept over the city.

London nearly tripled its police presence with 16,000 officers on patrol Tuesday as waves of rioting and looting threatened to expand from poorer sections to affluent neighborhoods and tourist destinations such as Central London and Notting Hill.

The riots, which engulfed parts of London in flames during the night, seemed to have little impact on daytime activities throughout the city's more affluent districts, said Steve Reed, 44, of Land O'Lakes.

"Some stores are closing early and some shops are boarding up their windows," Reed said. But "there are lots of tourists and pedestrians out and about, lots of people jogging or lying in the grass in Hyde Park, and people just going about life as usual."

Reed noted the unusual number of officers — about three times as many as usual — in the streets. "I would hope the increased numbers of police will lead to more stability," he said.

But Monday night, Reed said, police had seemed overwhelmed.

As he watched the orange glow of a motorbike set afire reflecting on the building across from his, Reed said he called police twice — and got no answer.

For Kevin McQueen, a 23-year-old student at the University of London from St. Petersburg, the riots brought back memories of people breaking windows at his grandfather's Fifth Avenue shop during the 1996 St. Petersburg disturbances.

"It's something I've always remembered," said McQueen, who was 9 at the time. "I didn't know all the intricacies, I just knew there were people burning stuff down on the South Side."

The London riots began in the borough of Haringey — the area in which McQueen lives, which is also the fourth-most deprived borough in London.

"I really just find it extremely disappointing," said McQueen, who has lived there for about a year. "That there are so many people willing to spend their nights trashing their own town."

Florence Bigley, 67, of Formby, England, was hugging her son goodbye at Tampa International Airport as she prepared to fly into London on Tuesday night.

"When things like this happen, the security steps up and they take precautions to keep people safe," she said.

She was just heading into London for a connecting flight to her home in the north of the country, so Bigley wasn't particularly fazed by the violence,

A family of three from Norfolk, England — the Wrights — didn't know much about the riots other than what they'd read in local newspapers during their three-week vacation in Bradenton.

"Unlike your police, our police are governed by too many rules," said Denise Wright, 52, a homemaker, while waiting for her flight at Tampa International.

She said most of the officers trying to quell the riots have their hand tied by bureaucrats who dictate how much force can be used. "Here, if you pull out a gun, a police officer can shoot you and end of story."

Her husband, Dennis Wright, 57, a garage owner, agreed London's police need more lattitude.

Grant Mitchell, 47, an art deco wholesaler from London, was putting three relatives on the flight home but was confident they would be safe.

He wants London's police to "be very proactive, heavy handed and hurt a few of them."

Mitchell will be returning to London in three weeks and is confident the government will have rectified the situation.

"They were probably caught unawares the first two nights but they probably could have dealt with it a little better last night," he said.

Times staff writers Marissa Lang and Robbyn Mitchell contributed to this report.

Some Tampa Bay residents in London say daytime activities go on despite nights of unrest 08/09/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 9, 2011 8:45pm]
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