TPD: Crime rates are down in Ybor City

Posted at 7:38 AM, Sep 09, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-09 07:38:41-04

Tampa Police have released new surveillance pictures of the people investigators are looking for in connection to the stabbing death of former USF football player Elkino Watson and the injury of Desmond Horne.  

On Tuesday, USF clarified yet again Head Football Coach Willie Taggart’s emotional response to Watson's death, banning players from Ybor City altogether. While he retracted the statement, it raises concerns about safety in the historic entertainment district.

Business owners who talked with ABC Action News say events like this weekend’s stabbing at the Orpheum nightclub are the reasons why Ybor City has a bad reputation.  When we checked with police, we learned this is the first murder there in three years, and crime is actually down.

USF coach Willie Taggart admitted he could have used different words when he said Ybor City was off-limits to his players. The statement came in the wake of the murder of former defensive tackle Elkino Watson. "I should have been more specific about my response, rather than just saying Ybor,” said Taggart.  

Richard Gonzmart, 4th generation CEO of The Columbia Restaurant, an Ybor City staple, took offense to the potential ban, and let the university know. "What I believe he meant was bars in general. He was talking about Ybor City and the bar where it took place, so I think it was misunderstood."

While it may have been misunderstood, Gonzmart says this is how Ybor City gets a bad reputation.  He says he met with police to talk about safety in the neighborhood, and what they’re doing to find the suspects, seen in surveillance pictures released today.

Tampa police say they’ve been focusing on safety in Ybor City for years. In 2002 they created a crime reduction plan that appears to have worked. Crime stats are actually down. In 2002 they had 500 reported crimes, this year there have been 120 so far. In 2012 there were four murders, last weekend’s murder is the only one this year.

"I think Ybor City is a safe place. What happens at 3 a.m. after alcohol is involved; you just have to make smart decisions,” said Gonzmart.

"I think all of our guys know when something bad is about to happen and we have to understand when to walk away," said Taggart.  

On the busiest nights, Thursday through Saturday, Tampa police have officers on horses patrolling Ybor City streets. That’s the main reason they responded so quickly when the fight broke out. While they weren’t able to save Elkino Watson, they’re hoping someone will recognize these suspects and turn them in.

Tampa police are offering at $3,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest. The other victim, Desmond Horne is still recovering from his wounds in the hospital.