Although Lake Worth’s Community Redevelopment Agency has worked diligently to clean up and improve the area in Lake Worth, the city still remains one of the worst crime areas in Palm Beach County. It was also listed on Neighborhoodscout.com as number 31 on the ‘Top 100 Most Dangerous Cities in the U.S.’.
Lake Worth, Florida was not always crime infested. It was originally incorporated as the ‘Town of Lake Worth’ in 1913 and was occupied primarily by American farmers who came to the area to benefit from the ability to grow vegetables during the winter season. Life in Lake Worth remained much like the rest of America, mostly drama-free, until around the 1960’s. However, one of the first drug related crimes in Lake Worth was committed by a man from Fort Lauderdale in 1959. He was charged with the burglary of a Lake Worth drugstore, Bert’s Pharmacy (located at 515 Lake Avenue) and the theft of $125 worth of ‘narcotics, drugs and miscellaneous notions’.
As the city made its way into the 1970’s, the police found itself dealing with more violence in Lake Worth and what we now call today ‘hate crimes’. After the public segregation laws were removed in response to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, law enforcement throughout the country were dealing with the rivalry between the whites and African Americans. In November of 1971, the issue made its way to Lake Worth High School.
11 students were injured during a fight in the high school’s cafeteria causing the school to close its doors for the remainder of the day. The students were arrested for disorderly conduct and destruction of school property. Later, police reports indicated the initial conflict began at the previous Friday night’s school football game where 13 students were also arrested after a fight broke out. The Monday morning cafeteria outburst evolved because the African Americans were angry that not as many whites were arrested as blacks during the Lake Worth High School Friday night football game.
Cocaine began to find its way into Lake Worth by the early 1970’s. In November of 1974, a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Department narcotic agent arrested a married couple residing on South K Street after confiscating around $10,000 worth of cocaine, a pound of marijuana, 3,000 amphetamine and 75 barbiturates tablets. Both were charged with possession and possession with the intent to resell the drugs. Another man who resided in Lake Worth was also arrested for drugs. He was charged with possession of 500 amphetamines and over five grams of pot.
In the winter of 1980, numerous complaints were being made to Lake Worth Police from motorists in the city about harassment and assault from drug dealers standing along street corners at intersections in the southwest section of Lake Worth. In response to the complaints, a 3-month long investigation was conducted. Finally, undercover agents purchased cocaine and marijuana directly from 10 reported suspects resulting in arrest warrants. All but one of the drug dealers were residents of Lake Worth except for one who was from Miami. All suspects were arrested.
As residents and law enforcement became tired of the crime happening in their community a crime prevention task force was implemented at the beginning of 1981. A feature of the new program was a telephone hotline which allowed local citizens to report to Lake Worth police suspicious activity happening near their homes (while it was happening). Within five hours of the first task force meeting, the program proved to be effective as a woman who had attended called the hotline to report an incident outside of her home. After the police investigated the situation, they learned the same suspects reported by the woman were involved in a hit-and-run accident earlier that same night.
Despite the extreme efforts of local police and the involvement of 3000 residents, by 1983 there were 1336 reports of burglaries in Lake Worth. Even news articles during that period suggested Lake Worth’s burglary rate in the early 1980’s was double Palm Beach County’s average. Sexual assault in Lake Worth was also becoming a problem. 15 rape cases were reported in the first quarter of 1983 alone.
By the summer of 1984, the southeast section of Lake worth became known to Lake Worth Police as ‘The War Zone’ due to the massive amounts of drugs being sold by kids out in the open, (in perfect view for all to see). To Palm Beach County, this area was identified as ‘The Osborne Section’, which was mostly occupied by African Americans and Haitians. At this point of the drug war in Lake Worth, even the regular citizens were becoming less of an asset to the police as the dealers began bribing or threatening those who used to serve as help in fighting crime. As 1985 approached, Lake Worth’s crime rate had risen by more than 25 percent.
Historical news archives indicate the city’s law enforcement and its citizens remained diligent for many years in their efforts to stop crime in Lake Worth. Instead, the city made its way to be among the list of the top 100 most dangerous cities in the United States.
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