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Florida police honor three residents as neighborhood "eyes and ears"[TAMPA, FL]


Drug dealers, prostitutes and sexual offenders beware: The women of the neighborhood watch are keeping an eye on you.

Armed with a video camera and two-way radio, Sandy Ramos of Ybor Heights prowls Nebraska Avenue in her truck, thwarting "business as usual" for the drug dealers and street walkers who plague her neighborhood.

Carrol Marshall of the V.M. Ybor neighborhood focuses on protecting the elderly in her neighborhood, especially those who are neglected.

And Ruth Fleming and her group in Woodland Terrace, Sanchez and Rivergrove have cleaned up their neighborhood so well, residents feel safe enough to walk along the sidewalks instead of heading to the park.

For their hard work, each woman and her community was recognized by the Tampa Police Department with a plaque and certificate.

"These women don't take no for an answer," said Neighborhood Liaison Officer Roy Paz. "They are the eyes and ears of the police department."

The trio was among seven women who received awards last week during the annual Chief's Coffee, where Police Chief Bennie Holder said thanks to the 117 neighborhood watch groups in Tampa.

The other women awarded were Carol Poland of Hunter's Green, Holly Klotch of Tampa Palms, Rowenia Kinchley of Fair Oaks and Betty Shaffer of North Tampa.

Last month, Ramos gained attention after she ferreted out a halfway house for men starting a new life after jail.

The house is next door to a day care center. Three of the occupants are convicted sexual offenders, including one registered sexual predator.

Ramos contacted city zoning officials and residents. Then she organized a meeting with Tampa Crossroads, which owns and operates the house, neighbors and community leaders.

Her work resulted in enlightening many residents, who had no idea the house was on their street, and a zoning violation for Tampa Crossroads, which has disputed the city's decision and has 60 days to fight it.

"We thought it was a really creative way to deal with the problem," Paz said.

Instead of protesting or threatening the men, Ramos and neighbors decided to arm themselves with knowledge, Paz said.

Ramos wasn't expecting the award.

"It shocked the heck out of me," said Ramos, who recalled jumping up and down like she won an Academy Award.

Ramos moved to Ybor Heights with her family 41/2 years ago from New York City. Her husband, Joseph, is a security officer. Son Joshua is 12; Kaylah is 8.

Ramos became involved in the neighborhood community association three years ago, eventually becoming president. During her tenure, she has helped residents change the name of their community from La Paloma to Ybor Heights.

She also has led the charge in ridding the neighborhood of crime, including drug dealers and prostitutes.

"We need to reclaim our streets," Ramos said this week. "This is where we are raising our children, where we rest our heads."

She credits the police department with helping residents fight the battle.

"We have a lot of mutual respect and appreciation," she said.

But residents have to get involved if they want to clean up their neighborhoods.

"I come from a city where we have 20,000 police officers," Ramos said. "Here, in Tampa, we have about 932. The reality is we have to work with what we have."

Ramos also was appointed to oversee neighborhood watch groups in District 5, which encompasses Ybor Heights, Belmont Heights and Jackson Heights.

Marshall is noted for her work with the elderly at the Home Association, where the V.M. Ybor Civic Association meets monthly.

Once a month, she helps give manicures to the residents and arranges for children to read to the seniors.

She also got involved with coordinating a crime prevention sale at Home Depot this year, in conjunction with Crime Prevention Week in September. The national chain sold door and window locks and other safety features.

Marshall moved to the area from New York 12 years ago. She lives with her husband, Kaye, and son, Sean, 16.

When she first bought her house, Marshall had to contend with drug dealers at the street corner. Now, she says, they know to stay away from her house.

"We have a lot of good people in the area," she said, "and just a handful that are really bad."

She and her group work hard, she said, to revitalize the area.

"This is an old neighborhood that has potential."

Ruth Fleming was born in Havana, Fla., outside of Tallahassee. She has lived in Woodland Terrace/Sanchez for six years with her husband, Levi - he hasn't missed a neighborhood watch meeting yet - and daughter Valerie.

She helped coordinate 60 to 70 volunteers to clean trash from the neighborhood's streets and her group helped get a recreation center for Woodland Park.

"I give all the credit to my neighbors," Fleming said. "One person can't do everything alone. Everybody is so eager to help."

(iSyndicate; The Tampa Tribune; Nov. 25, 2000) Terms and Conditions: Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.

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