Deputies in Dade City are teaming up with police and even the FBI to fight crime in certain neighborhoods after two murders in two weeks.
The first was 16-year-old Ethan White who was gunned down on Christmas Eve, and the second was 26-year-old Jose Leonardo Romero-Sule, killed days after the new year. Those are just two of several crimes in a Dade City area known as Tommy Town. Officers say the majority of the suspects in the high-crime area are teens, ranging in age from 12 to 17 years old.
The community is well aware of the problem, but many are scared of retaliation. Deputies say the kids are in local gangs and commit the crimes for adults.
We’re told they’re also behind a rise in armed burglaries, targeting homeowners with guns.
“These kids know how to play it the juvenile system. They know they’ll be out of pocket for 21 days and then they’ll be right back at it,” said detective Bryan Cozera.
Neighbors we spoke to are blaming parents for poor discipline and say if the crimes continue, those teens need to be charged as adults.
Deputies say kids with no respect for their parents have even less respect for the law, which is why they’re trying to educate children at a younger age.
"We have to grab them at a youthful age, at like 10,” said Cozera.
Deputies want people to know they can report anonymously -- without fear of deportation. They can’t get an actual number of the crimes in the area because they’re not being reported, and people are too afraid to talk about it.
Now they’re working to host community events to change the perception of law enforcement and build trust in the community. They’ll also be increasing patrols.
Neighbors say they hope it works.
“I hope one day these kids will realize the road they’re going down is the bad road, and they’ll make the choice to better themselves,” said Jessica Valdez.