CLEARWATER — City officials have decided to assign two police officers to patrol East Gateway, 175 acres just east of downtown that has battled drugs, prostitution and urban decay.
At the same time, the city is seeking business owners, residents and others to serve on a task force for the area, which thousands of people pass through each day on the way to downtown Clearwater or Clearwater Beach.
The task force and increased police patrols are designed to strengthen East Gateway, which over the years has turned largely into a rental community. And they both are part of an overall plan the city has developed for revitalizing the area, which is bounded by Missouri Avenue, Drew Street, Highland Avenue and Court Street.
"We'd like to see a thriving business community, a perception of safety and security for everyone who lives or works in that area, we'd like to see a changing economic environment," and renovation of some of the buildings, said Clearwater police Chief Sid Klein.
Klein said the two new officers will start in October, thanks to money from the city's Community Redevelopment Agency.
He said the officers will focus on three main missions: to "remove identified drug dealers and career criminals from the area"; to reduce prostitution; and to reduce the number of crimes committed by and against homeless people in the area.
Because of the number of Hispanic residents in the area, Klein said he would be happy if the officers are fluent in Spanish, but acknowledged, "We don't have enough officers who speak Spanish." The officers generally will patrol the area both in cars and on bicycles, and will work evening hours, getting to know the community's residents and business owners.
At La Feria de la Nieve, a store on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard that sells helados (ice cream), and licuados (shakes), manager Victor Vega said he had not heard anything about the new officers. He said he does not understand certain things about how the police operate now — such as why it seems 10 officers swarm around anyone who gets arrested — but said he certainly has no objection to more police.
At the Wanna Save convenience mart at 1362 Cleveland St., owner Ray Abdull said additional police are bound to help. "It's more, it's better," he said.
JoAnna Siskin agrees. She is president of the nearby Skyview Neighbors association, and also is a member of a group called the East Gateway Coalition, and says it's clear the area needs help.
She said that in any part of the city, "the people who live there should be able to feel safe in their neighborhood.''
Residents who would like to serve on the East Gateway task force can find information by going to www.myclearwater.com/eastgateway.