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Tampa police ask for community input to improve safety after the deadly shooting in Ybor City

Police officers sit at a folding table in front of a crowd of people in a ballroom. A woman stands up at a making phone to make public comment.
Stephanie Colombini
About two dozen speakers shared ideas about how to improve safety in Ybor City during a town hall hosted by the Tampa Police Department on Nov. 14.

Some speakers proposed making logistical changes to securing Ybor City at peak times, while others focused on big picture issues like curbing gun violence.

Community members are calling for security changes in Ybor City and more supports for young people after last month’s shooting in the historic neighborhood and entertainment district killed two people and injured 16 others.

The Tampa Police Department hosted a town hall on Tuesday evening to gather ideas from residents and business owners about how to improve safety.

Chief Lee Bercaw reiterated past claims that the Oct. 29 shooting in Ybor, which stemmed from a fight that broke out along the crowded East Seventh Avenue, was an “isolated incident.”

Several residents and business owners took issue with that and said while Ybor City is still a safe place, late night violence has been a problem before.

Some of the two dozen people who spoke advised against police shutting Seventh Avenue down to car traffic as closing time for businesses approaches. 

“When the public is coming out of the nightclubs, the sidewalks can't handle the volume. So that sweet spot is what we're working on, but I've made it very clear that we're going to close the streets as late as possible.”
Tampa Police Chief Lee Bercaw

Eric Schiller, owner of the bar and restaurant Gaspar’s Grotto, said it encourages loitering that can lead to violence.

“I feel like a broken record because I’ve said this same damn speech about every five years to as many people as I possibly can,” he said.

Bercaw said he hears those concerns, but said at a certain point they have no choice.

“When the public is coming out of the nightclubs, the sidewalks can't handle the volume,” he said. “So that sweet spot is what we're working on, but I've made it very clear that we're going to close the streets as late as possible.”

Bercaw says the department has added more officers to patrol the neighborhood and ramped up community engagement efforts.

Tampa Police Chief Lee Bercaw engages with people inside a ballroom.
Stephanie Colombini
Tampa Police Chief Lee Bercaw touted the department's strong relationship with the community at Tuesday evening's town hall.

A 22 year-old man has been charged so far in last month’s shooting, while investigators search for at least two others. The two male victims were 14 and 20 years old.

Many other speakers urged officers to expand youth outreach programs and do more to get guns off the streets.

Activist Niki Carraway's husband died in a shooting in August not far from Ybor. She addressed the crowded ballroom and noted she wasn’t used to seeing that many people at forums about curbing violence.

“Is it because now you all are tired and you're ready to get to work? Or is it because now we're worried about our pockets, what it’s going to do because Ybor City is now the front door?” she asked. “What about the side door what about the back door? Because this happens in our community all the time.”

Carraway cited a 17-year-old boy police say was killed in a drive-by shooting in Tampa last Saturday as another example.

Police officials say they're working hard to reduce gun crimes, but say they need families’ help.

“A lot of these shootings is within about 10 or 15 seconds because somebody has not told their child to take a deep breath when you get upset. They haven’t had that conversation,” said Calvin Johnson, the department’s deputy chief of community outreach.

One proposal that did not get a lot of support was to require businesses to close by 1 a.m. for the next six months instead of 3 a.m. Several speakers commended businesses for being able to securely handle crowds within their establishments, and argued the problems occur out on the streets.

Bercaw did call after midnight “the witching hour,” noting that both disturbance calls and guns recovered in Ybor this year are twice as high between 12 a.m. and 4 a.m. as they are during the previous four-hour period.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.
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