NORTH PORT, Fla. - The North Port Police Department continues its crackdown on so-called drug houses, now placing yard signs in front of homes where alleged drug activity has been discovered.
Two years ago, reports of illegal activity along South San Mateo Drive prompted the deployment of the department’s Special Enforcement Team, which posted up in the area to let the community know officers had their back.
Armed with a tent, grill, cornhole boards, and a sense of humor, officers held an impromptu block party to send a message: North Port is a place for community, not crime.
But the residents of one house did not seem to get the message. After 51 calls to the home at 3360 S San Mateo Drive, officers arrested 41-year-old Tandra Knoepke for felony keeping a nuisance structure, possession of drugs and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Last year, when North Port officers served a search warrant at an alleged drug house on Exotic Avenue, they said a sign on the inside of the home said, “Do not answer the door 4 the police everr.” Also inside the home was drugs, meth pipes, heroin spoons, and ammunition, according to police.
This week, the Special Enforcement Team was at it again, this time, serving a search warrant at 1932 Waltrip St. Officers said they made two arrests on charges related to meth, cocaine, and violation of probation.
After the arrests, NPPD had a message for others whose residences are being used to buy and sell drugs: “While you think you’re getting away with it,” the Special Enforcement Team is building its case.
In a post on Facebook, NPPD posted a photo of the home. The yard sign out front reads “This drug house closed for business courtesy of the North Port Police Department.”
“Drug dealers, it’s a ‘sign’ of things to come,” the department wrote in the photo’s caption. “The North Port Community is putting you on notice.”
It may be a sign for other law-breakers in the community, but the signs also show nearby residents the police are working to keep them safe.
"We are kind of getting a reputation of not taking drug dealing in our city lying down and I don't know that that is a bad thing," said Josh Taylor, Public Information Officer with North Port Police Department.
Tayor said they'd gotten tips about drug activity at the Waltrip Street home and previously arrested people living there on drug charges.
"We pulled somebody over who was associated with that address a couple weeks ago, they had meth in the car, and that was kind of a piece of the puzzle in order to get that search warrant that led us there Tuesday," Taylor said.
Carlos Smith, in the car, was arrested for unlawful possession of a controlled substance. When officers searched the home Tuesday, they arrested Tavarious Smith for unlawful possession of a controlled substance after finding a tenth of a gram of cocaine on his nightstand. He was also charged with violation of probation.
The police department's original Facebook post about the sign has been shared more than a thousand times since Tuesday, attracting mostly support.
"I don't have a problem with it. I actually think it's going to help," said neighbor Charles Pentecost. "I kind of feel bad for the owners and then, I don't. If you rent to someone or allow someone into your house, you should be checking."
A man at the Waltrip Street home told us off-camera that here's more to the story. He argues that the title "drug house" isn't a fair representation, that not everyone inside was arrested, that drugs were not being sold there, and says that they are considering legal options moving forward.
North Port Police plan to continue posting these signs, hoping they encourage those involved in illegal activity to keep it out of the city, or better yet, not do it at all.
"This isn't something that we want to do," Taylor said. "We don't want to have drug activity. We don't want to go out and arrest people for drugs, per se. We'd like for nobody to be using drugs and nobody to be selling drugs here in North Port."