ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - St. Petersburg Police conducted a day-long drug sweep of Williams Park in downtown St. Petersburg on Thursday, resulting in 19 arrests and the seizure of a variety of narcotics.
The park is well-known for both its transient population and drug problems, two issues which are very connected according to city officials and the dealers themselves.
"I can't get a job," explained Jennifer Corbin. "How was I supposed to make money? Trick?"
Police officers loaded Corbin, 28, into a transport van, arrested for dealing Dilaudid. According to Corbin, a felony conviction for beating up someone in Williams Park left her with no way to find work, so she deals drugs to make a living.
The park offers a regular supply of customers.
"There's nowhere else to go," she said. "There's no point. Everybody goes there."
The park has become such a problem for the city, they began working an undercover operation in January.
On Thursday, they made their arrests, loading handfuls of suspected drug dealers into patrol cars, clearing the park, at least for the day.
Many, however, may soon return.
"We've pretty much seen everybody," explained SPPD Sgt. Randy Morton. "A few are new faces, but most they know."
Officers patrol the park daily, said Sgt. Morton, and often find the usual suspects engaged in their usual behavior, whether it's prostitution, drug dealing, or other crimes.
Most of the suspects arrested Thursday were on a first-name basis with the officers handcuffing them. Some already spent time in jail for the same crime in the same park.
"There is a mutual respect between the officers and these people," Sgt. Morton said. "They get along with them, but if they're using narcotics, they will be going to jail."
Williams Park, located in the heart of downtown St. Petersburg, borders businesses and tourist destinations.
"It's just a place for people to hang out and sometimes some of those people do bad things," said Mayor Bill Foster.
Foster plans to meet with the chief judge, public defender, and state attorney to try to find a solution to the problems that plague the park, potentially increasing punishment.
"To keep these people behind bars," he said. "The sale and distribution of the types of drugs they pulled out of there today, that's serious stuff."
It may not do much to deter Corbin, though, who said she has no other way to make money because no one will hire her given her criminal history. She knows Williams Park well, having spent a lot of time there since she was 13 years old.
"My mom left me in Williams Park," she said.