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    Drug sting snags 43 suspects

    Undercover officers spent the summer compiling offenses against area drug dealers. Thursday, all their work came to fruition.

    By CHRIS TISCH, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published September 28, 2002


    CLEARWATER -- Over the summer, drug dealers in Clearwater have been conducting business as usual.

    Except for one wrinkle: Some of the people they were selling drugs to were undercover officers with the Clearwater Police Department's vice and intelligence squad. With each sale, undercover officers cobbled together evidence against the dealers.

    On Thursday, community policing and patrol officers went in search of those dealers, 55 suspects in all. By Friday afternoon, 43 of the dealers had been located and arrested. Some also were charged with prostitution.

    Officers said the arrests were clearing city streets of prostitution and drugs.

    "We're seeing fewer of the guys on the street who are involved in criminal activity," said Cpl. John Brown. "And that makes the citizens feel safe."

    Round-ups like this aren't uncommon for police departments. Written arrest reports for each suspect, which show when and where they sold drugs to an undercover officer, are neatly stored in folders that accompany the suspects to the Pinellas County Jail.

    Officers are given photos of the suspects along with information about where they live and where they hang out.

    Of course, some of the suspects helped in that category. Ten of the 55 suspects already were in jail on unrelated charges when the operation began Thursday afternoon, said Sgt. Ben McBride.

    Within a half-hour of the operation's launch, six suspects were in custody. Suspects were loaded into a waiting transport van and taken to the jail.

    Undercover officers don't make immediate arrests on the dealers because they don't want to blow their covers. They also can piece together multiple charges against dealers over a longer period of time if they make multiple buys.

    While the arrests came quick and slick on Thursday, building cases against the dealers took a lot of time.

    "This is the result of a lot of hard work by the vice guys," said Lt. Tony Holloway, a department veteran who was one Clearwater's first vice detectives years ago.

    Police said the word got out on the street pretty quickly on Thursday that the police were making cases. Dealers and hookers headed indoors.

    "For the next couple of days, you won't see any of the known drug dealers," Holloway said. "They're gone. They don't know if we have warrants on them or not.

    "The citizens notice that," Holloway added. "We're trying to send a message."

    Holloway said patrol officers will be keeping an eye out for the remaining suspects.

    -- Chris Tisch can be reached at 445-4156 or tisch@sptimes.com.

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