NEW PORT RICHEY — Local officials took a bite out of crime a few weeks ago when city police officers assisted in a prostitution sting that resulted in 16 arrests.
Tuesday night, New Port Richey City Council members vowed to finish the job and eliminate prostitution in chronic problem areas.
The city budget proposal will include recommendations to aid police enforcement, City Manager Debbie Manns commented after the meeting. The budget proposal is scheduled to be unveiled at a city council workshop on Tuesday.
“To eradicate prostitution in the city of New Port Richey,” Manns flatly stated.
“We’re going to be relentless,” Police Chief Kim Bogart commented after the meeting about his 37-member department.
Manns and City Councilwoman Judy DeBella Thomas rode along with police officers during the prostitution sting June 19 and 20. City police cooperated with Pasco Sheriff’s Office deputies in the FBI operation that involved 106 cities nationwide.
What she saw during the sting was “Mmind blowing,” Thomas said. The first arrest came at 11:30 a.m. in the morning, she emphasized.
“It was stunning,” she said Tuesday night. “It was just unbelievable.”
Bogart said officers keep watch over the motels and other spots frequented by prostitutes.
Such crime tarnishes the city’s image, Councilman Jeff Starkey said. It discourages business owners from relocating their firms in the city, he fears. The city has made steady progress to quell crime, but more work remains to be done, he believes.
“My house is 50 feet off U.S. 19,” Starkey said. He saw five prostitutes in the area the past week.
Starkey watched the hearings before the city’s special magistrate who handles chronic nuisances cases such as renting motel rooms to prostitutes. City officials started the special magistrate system last fall.
Starkey said he had to bite his tongue as he listened to excuses from offenders.
“It was extremely offensive to me,” Starkey said about rationalizations told before the special magistrate.
It’s simple, Starkey remarked about motel owners or managers: “Stop renting to prostitutes and drug dealers.”
The city by no means wants to shut down legitimate businesses on whims, Starkey said. Chronic nuisances are another matter.
“It just keeps bringing our economy down,” Starkey complained about the few crime-ridden spots in the city.