Criminal Justice System Undermines Iorio’s Commitment

So far, still so good for Mayor Pam Iorio.

Her priorities, personality and professionalism have impressed most observers, including pundits reduced to parody of a squeaky-clean persona and good governance. Financial fiascos involving the cancer survivors’ plaza and the THAPster crowd are hardly her fault.

But something else that is not her fault could undermine this Pamglossian jumpstart.

She has been spending a lot of time — and political capital — on East Tampa and has emphasized that she’s in for the long haul and not interested in lip service to an area chronically infested with crime and poverty. She obviously signs on to the inner city tenet that community-stabilizing investment and resultant jobs can’t happen in the context of drug holes, prostitution and garden variety thuggery. As a result, Iorio has been orchestrating a multi-player approach to East Tampa’s clean-up and economic revitalization.

That has meant beefed-up police work and pro-active code enforcement under the umbrella of the “Operation Commitment” blitz. It also has meant targeting builders, developers and business executives via the mayor’s point man, Ed Johnson, the manager of East Tampa development and community lending. It also has meant neighborhood activists stepping up and being supportive of these efforts, especially those of the police.

But the game plan remains one critical player short — the criminal justice system. Without it, “Operation Commitment” can’t succeed.

Already there are too many habitual criminals being rapidly recycled back to East Tampa.

It frustrates police officers who have to keep re-arresting the same crooks, druggies and predators. It angers and disillusions law-abiding residents who must reinforce police work with citizen vigilance. It discourages the very sort of investment that must happen for East Tampa to escape its moribund moorings. And it mocks authority and all efforts to do something.

No one is suggesting that due process be compromised in the name of cleaning up the mean streets of East Tampa. But a court process that is so lengthy that charges are routinely reduced or dropped is at cross purposes with what the police are trying to do.

For “Operation Commitment” to win, the status quo must lose — especially the protracted court process. Anything less would be a crime.

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