Pubdate: Mon, 10 Nov 2003
Source: Fort Pierce Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2003 The E.W. Scripps Co.
Author: Derek Simmonsen, staff writer
Bookmark: (Asset Forfeiture)


FORT PIERCE -- The unmarked sedan drives slowly up Canal Terrace, looking 
like a regular car until its windshield explodes with a flash of blue and 

Its driver, Cmdr. Frank Amandro, has pulled over a car where a driver is 
suspected of drinking alcohol. Next to him is an unmarked SUV that also 
flashes blue and white as men in black vests and khaki pants talk to a man 
in a pickup truck suspected of speeding.

No one goes to jail, but tickets are passed out, driver licenses are 
checked, and when everything is complete, the SUV and the sedan shut off 
their lights and disappear into the Friday-night traffic.

The face of the new multi-agency Weed & Seed task force is sometimes 
discreet, but its effects are being felt. Since the operation launched on 
Oct. 29, the task force has made more than 115 arrests, served 61 warrants 
and leveled 33 felony charges against people, according to a police report.

"We're a prime candidate for a Weed and Seed initiative," Amandro said, 
driving through some of the city's more troubled neighborhoods. "That's why 
we're out here."

The task force is a 30-member team that combines federal agencies, such as 
the FBI, and local agencies, such as the Sheriff's Office and police. Most 
of the regular members of the force belong to the latter two groups, but 
federal agents are only a phone call away for help, Amandro said.

So far, the task force has mainly gone after outstanding warrants (there 
are about 9,000 of them in St. Lucie County) and drug and gang activity, 
trying to push dealing off street corners. Undercover operations are 
planned in the future, such as prostitution stings and drug-buy operations, 
Amandro said.

He hopes once people in the community realize the task force is here to 
stay that they will get behind the operation, dubbed "Community Concern."

"There are decent, upstanding, hardworking people in the community here," 
Amandro said.

Police get criticism on the patrols firsthand. Early in the evening, a man 
riding a bicycle is stopped not far from Avenue D. He's detained for riding 
without a headlight at night (which is against city code), but he appears 
to act suspicious so the officers decide to question him further.

"I'm just chillin'," the young man said angrily, leaning on the bicycle. 
"I'm not out doing nothing. Why you messing with me?"

In the end, he gets a citation for the headlight and the officers leave 
again, having found no reason to suspect him of anything further.

But for every incident that does not lead to an arrest, there are others 
that do. In its first week, the task force seized roughly $48,000 worth of 
vehicles, cash, guns and narcotics.

"If this weeding operations continues . . . we will make a significant 
impact in our Weed & Seed area," wrote Chief Eugene Savage in a statement. 
"I will watch and wait to see what happens in the long run."

Sheriff Ken Mascara is equally enthusiastic about the early returns.

"These impressive accomplishments demonstrate that law enforcement is 
fulfilling its commitment to the residents of northern Fort Pierce," wrote 
Mascara in a prepared statement.

The members patrol in the Weed & Seed target area, which runs from 17th 
Street to 33rd Street and Orange Avenue to the Sheraton Plaza area. The 
task force is applying for federal money to supplement the program, but 
Amandro knows that local agencies will continue to put up the bulk of the 
funding and manpower.

He's hopeful that others will step in to work on the "seed" portion of the 
program, which aims to plant seeds of change through social service groups. 
In the meantime, the task force will continue to work -- in marked cars and 
unmarked SUVS -- to push away the "weeds," or career criminals in the city.

"We're hopefully making it harder and harder for them," he said.
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