Huge police presence at Florida State Fair

12:18 AM, Feb 9, 2008   |    comments
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Hillsborough County, Florida – The rules are simple.

Everyone is checked. Grandmothers, diaper bags, even back pockets

Cops aren’t kidding around at the Florida State Fair.

Bright lights on the midway showed the shake-down of teenagers everywhere. Here, there is zero tolerance, especially with the rumblings of a possible  gang attack..

On the first Friday night of the fair, crowds were huge. With temperatures in the mid-60s, conditions were perfect for strolling the fairgrounds. Funnel cake in one hand, fresh-squeezed lemonade in the other.

The idyllic setting didn’t last for long.

Packs of uniformed gang units moved quickly through the thick, shoulder-to-shoulder crowds. In less than an hour, 11 kids were shuffled off property. Reluctant to give his name, one Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Deputy told us, “We don’t want to have to arrest them. They just need to get off the property if they’re causing trouble.”

As for the kids, they knew a possible gang attack was looming.

Teenager Devin Mobley told our news crew, “I hear about it at school. They were talking about it for a long time.”

But, Major Harold Winsett with the Sheriff’s Department, disagrees. He says, there isn’t a specific threat. Just rumors, which means deputies have to be ready all the time.

“We bring out the gang squad out here, just to address that issue. So, if any do show up, we deal with it as it happens.”

But, that’s not good enough for one mom. She says she’ll never come back here again.

“We’re getting ready to leave. We’ve already seen cops chasing down a boy. I don’t need this,” said Tina Weymann, as she walked away with her 2 daughters.

Much of this is par for the course. You have a large group of people, most of them teenagers. Anything can happen. And, sheriff’s deputies have a somewhat impossible mission. No one can get hurt, and everyone must have a good time.

Hence, the rules.

Gang colors, signs or any paraphernalia are banned immediately. That person will be asked to remove gang material, or be denied admittance. It is truly zero tolerance.

You’ll see dozens of deputies on the grounds, but many you’ll never see. Undercover, plain-clothes officers are silently shuffling through the madness, proving that blending in next to their uniformed counterparts, also works as a deterrent to trouble. That’s because, you’ll never see them coming.

Melanie Brooks,Tampa Bay's 10 News

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