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Sweep in Tarpon Springs is just one step in cleaning up drug crime

A recent drug sweep in Tarpon Springs illustrates the challenge facing police departments trying to fight drug crime in a time of limited budgets. The Tarpon Springs Police Department and the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office worked for three months to gain intelligence that could lead to arrests of those dealing drugs on the streets of Tarpon Springs. Like other Pinellas cities, Tarpon Springs has a robust marketplace for drugs in some parts of town, and the Police Department under acting chief Capt. Robert Kochen is eager to shut it down.

After three months of investigative work, the two departments swept in and arrested 23 people just over a week ago on charges that included possessing and selling crack cocaine and marijuana and trafficking in prescription drugs. They said at the time that they expected a few more arrests.

But in the affected neighborhoods, while residents noticed that the marketplace for drugs had quieted, they had no confidence that it would remain so. They had watched previous drug sweeps in Tarpon Springs and they said after a quiet month or two, the drug dealers just come back.

Even when street-level dealers are convicted, their sentences often are not long. While they are incarcerated, there is always someone to take their place. And arresting the street-level dealers does little to disrupt the network of higher-level dealers who push drugs into the community.

Kochen said he plans to keep the pressure on the street-level dealers, but that's not his whole plan. He favors a multi-pronged approach that includes investigative work to flush out mid-level and high-level dealers, arresting those who buy drugs, and also using the practices of community policing to befriend people in the community and mentor children so they won't consider the police the enemy.

It's a sophisticated approach to the problem of drug trafficking, and the right one, but the challenge in these times of tight government budgets is maintaining the resources to do that heavy lifting. Only by persistent performance, however, will the Police Department win the confidence of residents that the department can put a dent in the city's drug trade.

Let this one go, commissioner

Tarpon Springs City Commissioner Peter Dalacos loves digging into things — loves it so much that some find his persistent search for wrongdoing to be obsessive and irritating.

It's not a bad thing to have at least one member of a government body who likes to ask probing questions and turn over rocks to see what's underneath. But Dalacos has gone too far, and has given ammunition to critics who say he is obsessed, on the subject of $95 the city spent when Mayor Beverley Billiris and City Commissioner Robyn Saenger went to China.

Billiris and Saenger recently spent two weeks in the Chinese district of Tunxi. The two did a lot of sightseeing and attended an economic conference where they promoted Tarpon Springs as a destination for tourists and business ventures.

Billiris announced that Tunxi paid for their trip and said "not a single penny" of city money was spent for it. However, she forgot that before they left for the trip, they shipped ahead a 14-pound box of materials promoting Tarpon Springs. The city paid the shipping cost of $95.25.

Dalacos seized on this issue and, at a public meeting, criticized the mayor for not telling the truth. Furthermore, once was not enough. He brought it up again at last week's meeting, questioning the mayor's truthfulness because she had said not a penny of city money was spent on the trip.

Okay. She forgot about the package. It would be easy to do if you were preparing for a two-week trip to China. The point is, the city did not fund the two city officials' trips, and despite that, they used part of their time in China working on the city's behalf.

With so much of great importance that needs to be discussed in Tarpon Springs, Dalacos looks petty when he obsesses over this issue. Let it go, commissioner.

Sweep in Tarpon Springs is just one step in cleaning up drug crime 08/03/09 [Last modified: Monday, August 3, 2009 6:28pm]
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