Lakeland crime stats fall, police attribute community action

LAKELAND, Fla. — Lakeland crime statistics have fallen drastically in the last few years. But the police force is not taking all of the credit.

Instead, pointing towards many community-based organizations that have been helping clean up the city.

“We are a firm believer that you can come into an area like this and show hope and just care,” said Michael Cooper, executive director of Dream Center of Lakeland.

ABC Action News met Cooper where Lakeland’s gang task force most recently met up over the weekend. Cooper, explaining that no matter which side of town you live on, everyone there is a Lakeland Resident and deserves a clean and safe neighborhood. 

“Once you’re in the community you go ‘it’s not that bad, they’re people, they’re Lakeland citizens,’” Cooper said.

New numbers show Lakeland Police have cut crime significantly.

In 2017, there was only one reported homicide, which happened to be between two long-time friends.

These numbers, in stark contrast just recent years’ past.

In 2014, Lakeland was home to 45 felony shootings and 8 homicides. 

Fast forward three years and the city tallies a 31 percent drop in violent crimes.

“We are out here at the gang task force cleanup in the area of 800 South Central Avenue,” Sgt. Gary Gross with the Lakeland Police Department said while doing a Facebook Live over the weekend. 

In the video, you can see dozens of kids, all part of different organizations cleaning up the area. Raking, bagging brush and picking up trash; all a part of the gang task force Lakeland has been organizing for years.

“We let them decide area of the highest spike in crime,” Cooper says the police department usually picks the area that will be cleaned up. Then the Dream Center of Lakeland, SEU Athletics and other faith-based groups go out to help and also deliver food. The outreach program tries to get out at least once a week.

“This lot here was completely just covered and look at it now it’s got a shaded area we’ve Mowed it kids can come in here and play,” Cooper points to a lot that used to be overgrown with bushes.

Neighbors like Juan Cruz appreciate the community support.

“A matter of fact yesterday they came in and cleaned my yard and they did a very good job,” Cruz said he’s happy to have kids doing good deeds in his neighborhood instead of getting into trouble.

ABC Action News was there as the Dream Center of Lakeland also brought Mr. Cruz more food for the week.

Cooper says the acts are simple, but they work.

“Caring and showing Hope,” he said.

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