DOVER - Forty-two people, most of them alleged members of rival gangs in eastern Hillsborough, have been arrested on illegal drugs and firearms trafficking charges as part of a crackdown on illegal gangs, the Sheriff's Office said Wednesday.
The suspects, who include a 14-year-old boy accused of carrying and delivering cocaine, were arrested as part of a joint investigation with Polk County authorities that began in October after several drive-by shootings in Plant City and Dover.
Authorities said the investigation revealed gangs were connected with the shootings, and that many gang members also were involved in trafficking narcotics and firearms.
Police said they seized hundreds of grams of cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine worth a street value of $42,900. They also said they confiscated three rifles, three handguns, $4,518 in cash and five vehicles, including a Ford Expedition, a Chevrolet pickup and an SUV, each worth at least $40,000.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg," said Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee.
The investigation is continuing in other parts of the county, including Brandon, where 69 people have been arrested in recent months, Gee said.
"The message we're sending today is we're going to come after you," he said.
The effort to capture those responsible for the shootings last summer began with investigators from Polk and Hillsborough counties gathering intelligence on several key suspects.
Within days, undercover detectives were buying illegal drugs from members of the Dover Locos and Norte 14 gangs at several convenience and grocery store locations, officials say. Ten suspected members from those two gangs were arrested, as well as 12 suspected members of other gangs, officials say. Authorities said they arrested 42 people on 157 felony and misdemeanor charges, ranging from possession of illegal drugs and firearms to attempted murder.
The investigation also led to the arrests of two other people wanted in connection with a homicide Sept. 12 at a Lakeland nightclub.
During the press briefing, Gee urged parents to assume a bigger role in talking to their children about the dangers of falling in with gangs.
He said parents should avoid buying their children certain clothing that is bright red or blue or they may risk being targeted by gangs. Beyond asking parents to take a more proactive stance in their children's lives and threatening to prosecute gang members to the fullest extent of the law.
He said gang-related activity "is not something we can solve overnight." But he advocated a tougher stance to spare Hillsborough of the gang-related violence that has plagued major cities.