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Residents want to ‘take back’ NPR from crime

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NEW PORT RICHEY — The shot heard around New Port Richey prompted more than a dozen residents to complain Wednesday night about what they view as escalating crime that leaves them feeling unsafe in their own homes.

Police investigated an Aug. 19 incident when a bullet was fired into a house in the 6800 block of Grand Boulevard. The bullet pierced a sliding glass door and lodged in a wall.

It’s unclear if the shot was fired by accident or deliberately, authorities said. Residents and the authorities believe the shot was fired from across the Pithlachascotee River.

The incident was the last straw for the residents who lined up before New Port Richey City Council to demand changes to “take back the city,” as Chuck Grey and other residents put it.

Many have volunteered to serve on crime watch groups or patrols. Businesses could leave the city because of crime, they said.

Council members said changes are in the works but won’t happen overnight. They passed a nuisance abatement ordinance in June to deal with trouble spots in the city and created the special magistrate position to hear cases. The first special magistrate was hired on Wednesday and the city seeks to hire two more magistrates.

Since being named police chief last month, Kim Bogart has focused on hiring and training to bring the city police force back to full strength, a staff of 37.

Bogart said after the Wednesday meeting that he is “chomping at the bit” to create a volunteer program. The department has two vehicles that could be used by volunteers for patrols.

“Communication is two way, not one way,” resident Carol Kinnard said. “We should know what’s happening in our neighborhoods.”

City crime reports should become more readily available, Kinnard said. She suggested an online blog and anonymous tips.

Hope Soukup, a resident for three decades, talked about two break-ins at her River Road home. She recalled how her children used to be able to play outdoors or canvass the neighborhood without a second thought. “We have to hover over them” now, she said, referring to her grandchildren.

Transients have become brazen in asking for money near her Delaware Avenue home, Gwen Martin testified. “I want to stay here, but I’m scared, too,” she said.

“You need to open your eyes,” resident Craig Carmichael told city officials. Vagrants often congregate at the overlook along the Main Street bridge. His wife and her friend often see used condoms littering the area as they walk along Grand Boulevard near Sims Park.

Nevertheless, “We’re not ready to give up,” Carmichael said.

Conditions are the worse he has seen in his 64 years, said Chuck Grey, whose real estate agency is on U.S. 19. Employees of several firms in the city fear being accosted if they work late and leave after dark, he said.

“If there’s no security, we’ve got nothing,” Grey commented. “We’ve got to take back the city. I’m here to help.”

Grey complained about a “filthy rat hole” across U.S. 19 from his business where criminals and troublemakers tend to gather. He’s getting tired of city notices about sign violations at his business while the city allows problem areas to fester.

“I’ve given up,” Ed Lawlor said. He has suffered two burglaries at his River Road home.

Lawlor said he saw a pregnant woman outside his house who apparently was smoking some drug in a glass pipe. Before about 2007, Lawlor said, he could leave a $100 bill lying outside overnight and it would still be there the next morning.

“We are aware of problems,” Mayor Bob Consalvo told the large audience. It’s sad that it took a bullet fired into a home to galvanize action, he said.

“I’m horrified,” Councilwoman Judy DeBella Thomas said. “I’m so angry myself” because her jewelry was stolen in recent months.

Long ago she accidentally left the front door of her house open while on vacation but nothing was taken, said DeBella Thomas, who has lived here 35 years.

“It’s been a slow slide down,” DeBella Thomas said. “We must not allow this to continue.”

Councilman Jeff Starkey cited the “undesirables” who hang out in the Sims Park area late at night. He recalled his boyhood, when he could ride his bicycle around the city without any worries.

The city must develop a plan to combat crime, Starkey said. “I’m so sick of (just) talking about it.”

Councilman Chopper Davis said he has been victimized three times. People don’t feel secure in their own homes behind locked doors, he said.

Councilman Bill Phillips, who was raised in the city, said he doesn’t like current trends. “Our hearts are here,” Phillips said.

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