Police presence increased in St. Augustine's historic district

Patrol efforts upped in wake of recent violence

By Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor, Colette DuChanois - Web producer

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - There's a neighborhood crime alert in downtown St. Augustine, as the tourist hotspot has recently been the site of several violent crimes, including three in which shots were fired.

The latest happened over the weekend and residents, business owners and college students are all concerned. In response, the city is now increasing the police presence in the historic district.

At Carmelo's Pizzeria, near King and Malaga streets, there have been two incidents of shots fired in the last month. It's across the street from the police station and near a Flagler College dormitory building.

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According to the St. Augustine Police Department, officers found a spent shell casing after a shot was fired early Saturday morning during a brawl outside the pizza parlor and a gas station. No one was hit, but police said someone was injured by shrapnel.

"I heard a really loud noise coming from Carmelo's," Flagler College student Dustin Fletcher told News4Jax. "Security is an issue at times."

Flagler College student Abigale Tabor heard it, too.

"We weren’t really sure what happened, but we saw there is a lot going on and there is somebody with a gun," Tabor said. 

Police said two bystanders found a different caliber handgun across the street, near the Flagler College's F.E.C. dorms, shortly after the brawl.

"That happened literally 100 feet away from our building," Tabor said. "It makes us feel concerned about walking around at night, especially."

Last month, according to police, a man was arrested after a shot was fired near Carmelo's over the dorm building on Malaga Street. 

In February, there was an attempted robbery involving a firearm at Project Swing Park, police said. Several days after that, a taxi cab driver was "pistol-whipped" with a BB gun during a robbery, according to the Police Department. Two teens were arrested in each of those two cases, police said.

In late January, a suspected drunk driver hit a couple on a sidewalk and plowed through the wall of a historic cemetery, police said.

And just last week, according to police, a man opened fired several shots outside No Name Bar. No one was hit, but police said two people had minor injuries from shrapnel. 

"If you have information and you’re not coming forward, shame on you," said Officer Cecilia Aiple, with the Police Department. "This is our community and we need to protect it, so we need your help to come forward."

The Police Department is now stepping up patrols in the historic district, increasing officers on weekends and working with businesses to cut down on the crime. 

"This is a very safe community. This is not the new norm for St. Augustine," Aiple said. "Our community will not tolerate it and the St. Augustine Police Department won't tolerate it."

The Flagler College students said they're playing it safe.

"I have pepper spray with me now," Tabor said. "I try to always be around somebody if I am around at night, as I don’t want anything to happen to anybody that I know or myself."

According to police, business owners have been trying to help. In the wake of the incidents of shots fired, Carmelo’s, which is open 24 hours, will close its business from 1:15 a.m. to 2:15 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays in an effort to reduce crime. 

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