Why hookers, drug dealers and felons are frustrating police | News
New Port Richey, Florida -- Hookers, drug dealers and ex-cons are the clientele being drawn to a Pasco County motel, and police say they've been called to the address so many times, it is hurting their ability to fight crime in other areas.
What's worse, they also worry if something isn't done soon, an officer could be shot.
Welcome to the Royal Palm Inn: It's a motel where a melting pot of crime is brewing along U.S. 19 in Pasco County.
New Port Richey Police Chief James Steffens is frustrated by the number of times -- more than 270 last year alone -- that his officers have been called out to the Royal Palm Inn.
"It is unacceptable, and a big drain on law enforcement resources," he tells 10 News. "I think we've been very fortunate that we've not been hurt or killed as a result of having to take actions there."
As a matter of fact, Steffens saw action at the Royal Palm Inn on his very first night as chief almost two years ago.
"My first impression, of course, was not good because instead of me touring the river or looking at the other things in the city, I was at the Royal Palm Inn in the dead of the night looking for bad guys," Steffens says.
Greg Armstrong is the owner of neighboring Grey and Son Realty. He says it is a nightmare, and businesses in the area are frustrated by the hookers and drug dealers who hang out at the motel and scare off customers.
According to Armstrong, it is not just a one or two-day problem, but something that happens every day and night.
While officers make arrests at the Royal Palm on almost every call -- including the night we were with them -- officers say people scatter like rats abandoning a sinking ship whenever they show up.
So how is this place still open?
"I have to abide the laws that I am authorized to enforce. So even still, they're right on that cusp; it's where I can't just go shut them down," Steffens explains.
We went to talk to the family that owns the Royal Palm Inn and ask them how they can let this happen.
We asked J.M. Patel, the manager of the motel, if he rents regularly to drug dealers and prostitutes and he told us, "No."
When we followed up with a question of why the police are called to the Royal Palm all the time for drug dealers and prostitutes, Patel claimed he didn't know. He denies any wrongdoing, but he couldn't explain the constant arrests and calls to police.
However, Patel did say he is just the manager who is always there, and that it is actually his son who owns the motel.
Regardless which family member owners the motel, the Patel's realtor neighbor, Armstrong, is concerned that if the family or the city doesn't act, the problem will only get worse.
"Everybody says, 'We are doing what we can within the limit of the law.' And my response is: we need to change the limit of the law, because what we've been doing doesn't work," says Armstrong.
And the Chief adds, "Bad guys are using that location, they are getting more and more dangerous and my guys are going in there. Tragedy waits if we don't change that right now."
But for now, all the police can do is go back to the Royal Palm Inn every time there's a problem, which so far, has been almost every day.
That's why we took our concerns to New Port Richey Mayor Bob Consolvo, who promised that the council would adopt an ordinance that would force the motel to clean up the problem, or be forced to close as a nuisance.
"We want our image of our city to be something other than that," Consolvo told us.
The mayor couldn't explain why the problem has gone on for so long, but he plans to take action now.
Consolvo says the city will enact tougher laws and solve the problem for once and for all at the Royal Palm Motel.
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