Exclusive: St. Petersburg Police tackling gang problem before it gets out of control

Newly created unit going house to house

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway unveiled a new gang unit for the very first time to City Council on Thursday.

Holloway outlined how gangs have started a turf war over lucrative territories to sell drugs and how it is leading to more shootings and young teens getting killed.

“We started to see an increase in shootings, we started seeing increase in aggravated assault and assaults,” Holloway said. “We are trying to make sure they don't recruit more people into these neighborhood gang groups.”

The new team of officers dedicated to going after and identifying specific gang members is called, the Investigative Support Unit. It is led by 15-year veteran Sgt. Steve Sequeira.

“My goal is to trying get them to look toward the future and find a goal so they have something to reach for,” Sequeira said.

Sequeira said one gang got so big in the South St. Pete two rival gangs teamed up to fight them. The gang members are looking for goods they can easily flip for cash, and guns. Most of the guns they get in their possession come from unlocked vehicles across the Bay Area and that leads to deadly outcomes.

“Once these guns get in these kids hands it goes south very quickly,” Sequeira said. “These kids want money and they are going to do whatever they can to get the money in their hand.”

The unit is trying a different approach to stop gangs from recruiting. Officers are identifying specific gang members, then going right to their home and telling their parents. In most cases, officers admit, the parent or legal guardian doe not care what their teenager is doing.

“That is a big challenge,” Sequeira said.

But, that’s not the case with everyone. As officers were telling one mother that her son was identified as a known gang member she cooperated with Sequeira and another officer on the squad. Adresea Mells even talked to us about her struggle to keep her 14-year-old son out of jail.

“He's been stealing cars, breaking in people's houses. Stuff like that,” Mells said. “It is extremely hard. It seems like everything I tell him goes in one ear and out the other.”

Mells said she might have to move just to get him away from all the bad influences in his life. She was grateful that police told her about the new gang unit and programs to help get teens inspired to do things other than commit crimes.

“I am going to try anything to save my son,” Mells said.

That’s also what keeps Sequeira going every day.

“Just finding that one kid that will stop doing what they know they shouldn't be doing,” Sequeira said.

For more gang-related information and materials, you can contact the National Gang Center.

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