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Police, family of murder victim plead with community for help

Showanda Darns weeps while speaking at a news conference Tuesday in the Tampa Police Department press room. Darns pleaded with the public to help find those involved in the killing of her mother, Sharon Watkins, who was shot in her home. [] 
Published Jul. 1, 2015

TAMPA — In the wake of a spike in homicides this summer, Tampa police and the family of a 58-year-old grandmother shot dead in her home last weekend pleaded with the community to come forward with information about her murder.

But Tampa police Capt. Ronald McMullen also criticized the community at a news conference Tuesday. He said calls to end the violence were like "a broken record" — and disingenuous because witnesses often refuse to cooperate with police to help solve crimes.

"All these people out here, when they get on the scene, they are always so outraged," McMullen said. "They cannot believe what's going on and say, 'What are we doing about it?' Now, the tables have turned.

"What are you going to do about it, folks? Now, you're going to see the face of pain, to find out what really happens in the aftermath of this violence."

To show that pain, he then introduced the family of Sharon Watkins, who was fatally shot in her apartment Saturday. She was discovered by her husband in their home in the North Boulevard Homes public housing complex, police said.

Her daughter, Showanda Darns, 32, tearfully described her mother as sweet and encouraging, someone who would give a person in need everything she had.

"I'm asking you from my soul, anything you remember from that night, that morning," Darns said, "please come forward."

Tampa had 12 homicides by June 2014. This year, police say there have already been 21 over the same period. Four victims are younger than 18, and McMullen said 15 were the result of black-on-black crime.

The captain said officers would step up patrols and protect residents who come forward to help police:

"There are so many good people in the community that have not stood up, that want to stand up, that may be afraid to talk, that we're telling: 'Don't be afraid. We'll stand up with you.' "

City Council Chairman Frank Reddick, who represents the district where Watkins was killed, said officers also need to spend more time "outside of their cars" to build trust among residents and overcome residents' fear of retaliation for cooperating with police.

"You have people in the community that are afraid to openly speak up," he said. "The opposition to not voluntarily coming forth with information is because people are afraid for their lives.

"That's where I think community policing becomes more important, because you're interacting more with residents. It's difficult for people to say, 'Just call law enforcement and call a number and report someone.' "

Watkins was one of two people killed this past weekend. The other victim, Kirk Tyrone Chang, 40, was found with a gunshot wound near 30th Street and E Osborne Avenue and died at a hospital.

McMullen said Watkins was likely caught in the crossfire of a dispute between groups of young people. He said such disputes are a common factor behind the violence in many neighborhoods.

But McMullen stopped short of calling the groups involved gangs. He said police treat groups who think they're gangs like gangs — but the department does not define them as such.

"By statute, they're not gangs," he said. "They're a loose association of cowards marauding through the neighborhood at night."

McMullen said many fights that lead to injuries or deaths are over "silly" arguments.

"They act like boys," he said, "but they're carrying guns."

Tampa police will use federal grant money to increase police presence in east and West Tampa neighborhoods, McMullen said, but he emphasized that the key to reducing violence is cooperation from the community. He asked anyone with information about Watkins' death, or any of the city's killings this summer, to call Crime Stoppers' anonymous toll-free tip line at 1-800-873-8477.

Contact Emily McConville at emcconville@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374. Follow @emmcconville.

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