I had the opportunity a couple of weeks ago to spend the day participating in the joint New Port Richey Police Department / Pasco County Sheriff’s Office crackdown on prostitution along US 19. To describe the day as “educational” would be an understatement.
Like most people driving along US 19, I’m generally more concerned with watching out for other drivers than noticing what people are doing on the sidewalks. Riding along with a police officer gives you a whole different perspective.
US 19 is a mess on multiple levels. An absolutely clueless Florida Department of Transportation has kept our section of US 19 a continual construction mess for two years now with another year of cones and barrels yet to come. The amazing thing to me is that the folks at FDOT see absolutely nothing wrong with this. When I pointed out that the half finished median openings that are blocked off with cones and barrels are a life-safety issue for first responders, one of the FDOT officials actually responded, saying that it was perfectly alright for the first responders to stop, get out of their vehicle, move the barrels, make their U-turn, stop, get back out of their vehicle to replace the barrels, then continue on to whatever emergency they were being called to.
I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.
Drug addiction appears to be a driving force in why women are working the street. Look a little closer and you are likely to find the pimps / drug dealers that are profiting from prostitution in our area. Any solution for the prostitution problem has to include eliminating the pimps / drug dealers.
The prostitutes aren’t just working US 19 either. One of the women was picked up on Astor. I received an email from a resident complaining about a prostitute being picked up by a john on Astor a few days later.
We also need to address the demand side. Don’t be surprised to the johns rounded up in a future sting.
We have businesses along US 19 that are catering to the prostitution and drug trades. They need to be shut down. We have a nuisance ordinance that is starting to have an effect, but much more needs to be done.
We also have a new prostitution ordinance that will allow the police to cite prostitutes without having to get them to offer sex for money. If we make it difficult enough for them to conduct business in New Port Richey, the prostitutes and their pimps will move along.
Another resident chatted with Mrs. Manns, our city manager, and me at the Cotee River cleanup. The cleanup he wants is for the drug house across the street from his house to be shut down. That is going to happen and the city is going to put the property owner on notice that he has a responsibility to vet his tenants.
The same goes for the motels on 19 that are renting rooms to prostitutes and drug dealers. We will hold the property owners responsible and will hit them in the wallet if they persist in renting to criminals.
Other crime in the city can be tied to drug abuse as well.
What can local residents do? I would like you to call the police department each and every time you see something that is “off”. If you see women working US 19, call. If you see unusual activity at a house in your neighborhood, call. If you see people in Sims Park after hours, call. If you see them drinking, having sex, or taking drugs in the park at any time, call.
The non-emergency number for the police department is: (727) 841-4550. Put it in the address book on your cell phone.
The key is to call. The police will respond and each of us can help by letting them know where the problems are.
Cleaning up US 19 will also entail some “urban renewal”. The county and the city are working together on the “Harbors” plan to redevelop the west side of Pasco County. Once FDOT finally finishes their construction project, I can see us working with the county to attract new retail businesses into the US 19 corridor. Some of this may require demolition of old buildings and construction of new ones. I can think of quite a few trashy buildings along US 19 that nobody would miss if they were demolished and something better put in their place.
Some of the parcels potentially in play are huge. Reports came out a week or so ago that the Sears at the Gulfview Mall and it’s sister business, the K-Mart on US 19 just south of Main Street, will be closing by year end. The old Food Fair building has been empty since the Suncoast News / Tampa Tribune moved out a while back. There are some definite opportunities out there for someone who needs the sort of visual exposure you get by locating your business on US 19.
We need to clean up US 19 and 6 extend that cleanup into our neighborhoods as well.
So to the lady who contacted me about the prostitute on Astor and the fellow that complained to us about the drug house across the street, I say “Thank You”. If each of us does our part to take back our city, then the other things will fall in place.
I promise to be a little more upbeat next week. The article I’m working on for next Sunday has a title of “Partly Cloudy, With A Chance of Jobs”.
Rob Marlowe, Mayor