A Lakeland neighborhood where families once feared stepping outside their doors seems a little safer these days.
Police and neighbors alike report a major drop in crime, crediting increased police presence.
Eight gang-related homicides in the city since 2013 sparked a community-wide effort to stop the violence. Dennis Stephens has been staying around 2nd Street and Jewel Avenue since 1970 and started getting uneasy last year as crime scenes became a regular view outside his window.
“If I think there’s something wrong, I will call them. You can rest assure of that,” Stephens said.
“In the last six months, it (has) been pretty good,” he said. “Police have been pretty busy (patrolling) around here.”
It’s finally getting back to the way it used to be, Stephens added.
Lakeland Police made major changes last year as gang violence escalated and neighbors feared living in the area.
School resource officers spent their summer walking the streets and talking to residents instead of issuing cigarette violations at shopping centers.
About 500 Lakeland Middle School students participated in an anti-gang program. And officers applied a tougher approach to truants – issuing citations to students staying home from school.
Lakeland Police Department Sgt. Gary Gross believes the new approach is paying off.
“In 2015 we’ve had zero gang related homicides. We are making a difference,” Gross said.
This summer the city is again partnering Citrus Connection to provide free rides for kids to and from activities and jobs, hopefully keeping them off the streets.
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