Pubdate: Fri, 27 Aug 2004
Source: Fort Pierce Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2004 The E.W. Scripps Co.
Author: Derek Simmonsen, Staff Writer


FORT PIERCE -- A little more than a year ago, 30 law-enforcement
officers stood on Avenue D, vowing to rid neighborhoods of crime.

The number of major crimes in the city has dropped since then, and
city and county officials credit the Weed & Seed task force for making
it happen.

It has not come without a cost, however.

The task force, formed to "weed" out criminals, is the only side of
Weed & Seed of St. Lucie County that some residents see. That's why
organizers are hoping to put the focus on the "seed" side next year,
including neighborhood restoration, job training and improving quality
of life.

"The weeding is only 50 percent of it," Sheriff Ken Mascara said. "We
are definitely looking forward to seeing the seeding side. Through
social services and bringing training in to residents -- that's going
to be very beneficial to the whole community."

The task force, officially known as Operation Community Concern, had
its roots in past joint projects between Fort Pierce police and the
St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office to target drugs, prostitution and
other crimes.

The team began working in late October 2003, making about 115 arrests
in the span of its first 13 days.

"You can see the impact that it has had on our crime reduction,"
Police Chief Eugene Savage said. "I think when you look at where we
are now and where we were this time last year, you can see the

The numbers back up his argument.

In Fort Pierce, murders are down by 50 percent, with six homicides
compared with 12 during the same time period last year. Forcible sex
offenses, including rape, are down about 7 percent (55 incidents
compared with 59 last year) and robbery is down 39 percent (138
incidents compared with 226 last year).

The group still operates once or twice a month, but has limited its
work to make sure that other police operations are not shortchanged,
Savage said.

Weed & Seed of St. Lucie County, hard hit by this year's hurricanes,
is looking for new office space, but it has big plans for the future,
said Portia George, the program's site coordinator.

George took over the program last week after Executive Director Mary
Alice Bennett resigned to repair hurricane damage to her home.

Jobs are a major concern for residents. Taking a step in that
direction, the program has formed a partnership with Indian River
Community College to offer classes in northwest neighborhoods, George

"If the people we target in this Weed & Seed area can get out there
and get some skills, they'll feel better about themselves," she said.

A consultant from the program's national office recently came to Fort
Pierce and advised organizers to focus their efforts on just a few
projects rather than attempting to do too many at once, said Mayor Bob
Benton, chairman of the group's steering committee.

"I think everybody would agree that Weed & Seed -- the philosophy of
Weed & Seed -- is working," Benton said. "It's been a big success and
I think the community believes in the program."

About Weed & Seed

What it is: It's a federal program to "weed" out criminals in
neighborhoods and plant "seeds" of social services.

Task force arrests: 1,506 from Oct. 29, 2003, through this

Resulting felony charges: 631
- ---
MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin