After a five-month investigation by law enforcement leaders in three counties, a North Florida narcotics task force announced Wednesday that 103 people have been charged on drug-related counts and various illegal narcotics have been seized.
Of the 103 individuals, 57 were arrested Wednesday in a “warrant sweep.” The others are being sought be law enforcement.
The investigation, called Operation Safe Summer, targeted street-level drug dealers in Putnam, St. Johns and Flagler counties.
"It is our hope that they will remain locked up while our children begin enjoying their summer break," said St. Johns County Undersheriff Joe Bolante.
The drugs purchased during undercover operations included prescription narcotics, cocaine, Ecstasy, heroin and marijuana.
The North Florida High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Tri-County Narcotics Task Force also busted a meth lab and a marijuana grow site with 14 plants in Putnam County.
"These are typically residential neighborhoods where kids are playing, where they're walking to the store, to and from school and church and there's drug activity out in the open," said State Attorney R.J. Larizza of the 7th Judicial Circuit. "The bottom line is it's not only the fact that folks buy and sell the drugs, it's what these kids observe and learn and how they may influence these folks."
Police said most of the violence on streets is connected to open air market drug sales, and officers are hoping this helps cut down on crime.
"What you may not realize is how dangerous it is when folks are out there making these busts to make our streets safer, and I salute the folks who do that," Larizza said.
The task force was made up of members of the Putnam County Sheriff's Office, St. Johns County Sheriff's Office, Flagler County Sheriff's Office, Palatka Police Department, St. Augustine Beach Police Department, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
"This is a perfect example that illustrates the impact we can have in our community and (on) making our streets safer this summer by all these agencies bringing to bear all their resources," said FDLE Special Agent Dennis Bustle.
The task force said the entire operation cost all agencies less than $5,000 and many of the suspects arrested are considered habitual drug offenders.
The remaining suspects have dispersed, but officers said they are confident they will catch them another way, such as for a speeding violation or if they go to the DMV to get a new license.
If you have any information, you're asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-888-277-TIPS.