Criminals pay for kids to ride city buses for free in Lakeland and Winter Haven

LAKELAND, Fla. - Lakeland city leaders hope a new program that lets kids ride city buses for free may cut down on gang-related violence this summer.

The program runs for three months starting Sunday for Lakeland and Winter Haven children between the ages of 12 and 18.

Parents who sign up their children will receive a free city bus pass to take them to summer camp, the mall, around town or a part-time job.

"This is really targeting the middle and high school kids and saying there's no reason to sit at home and play Xbox all summer and be bored. Get out and be active in your community," said Citrus Connection Executive Director Tom Phillips, who developed the program.

Most agree that the northwest area of Lakeland is badly in need of a distraction for kids.

Gang-related violence among young men has exploded recently with at least six shootings in the past month alone.

"This will enable them to go and be able to keep themselves busy, keep themselves occupied and hopefully we'll see a decrease in our crime rate," said Interim Chief Larry Giddens of Lakeland Police Department.

Perhaps the best part is the people who are paying for kids to stay out of trouble are criminals.

"The fact that the drug seizure money is paying for the kids to ride the bus means that it's not costing the taxpayers a dime," Phillips said.

He said if the program is a hit this summer, he hopes to expand it to the entire county next year.

For more information on routes and where to sign up, visit the Citrus Connection website at .

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