FORT PIERCE —
Thanks to a summer-long crackdown targeting criminal hot spots in the northwest part of the city, hundreds of people were arrested and thousands of dollars worth of illegal drugs and dozens of guns were taken off the streets, said St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office and Fort Pierce Police Department officials at a joint news conference Tuesday.
From June 1 to Aug. 20, the two agencies combined resources for “Operation Street Peace.” During the sweep, officials arrested 678 people, of which 172 were charged with felonies including selling drugs, drug possession, drug trafficking, and concealed weapons, records show.
“This is not just a summertime thing,” Police Chief Sean Baldwin said. “Just because the summer is over doesn’t mean the pressure is off.”
The people arrested have criminal arrest histories that include homicide, armed robbery, aggravated battery and sexual offense, officials said. Sixty-nine of those arrested were members or affiliates of nine local street gangs.
Baldwin told local gangs, “You’re either going to stop the violence that is destroying our community or you are going to go to jail for the rest of your life.”
The 49 confiscated guns were the most seized so far in these types of sweeps, officials said.
“It’s just eye opening to see this many guns in such a short period,” said sheriff’s office Sgt. Jamie Wills, a 21-year law enforcement veteran.
Among the seized weapons was an AK-47, multiple shotguns, an electric stun gun and dozens of hand guns.
“It is important not only to remove criminal elements but also the tools of this trade, which are these guns,” St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara said.
Several of the guns were reported missing after burglaries, mostly from unlocked vehicles, Mascara said.
Baldwin said over the last four month the city has been experiencing an increase in the number of violent crimes.
However, until the firearms are tested at the regional crime lab, it is not known if any were used to commit prior crimes, officials said.
Law enforcement also seized more than $14,200 worth of illegal drugs, including cocaine and marijuana, and a vehicle worth $15,000.
Both Mascara and Baldwin said the operation could not have been a success without the cooperation and tips from the community.
Both organizations issued more warnings — 1,012 — than arrests during the sweep.
“Our police officers and deputies operated a great level of discretion because these were people not committing violent crimes,” Baldwin said.
However, 75 people were charged with misdemeanors, Baldwin said, and this may deter them from committing other crimes.“What we find is little stuff leads to big stuff.”
Operation Street Peace
Dates of operation: June 1- Aug. 20
Felony arrests: 172
Misdemeanor charges: 506
Total persons arrested: 678
Gang activity: 69 of the people arrested were either members or associates of nine local street gangs
Written warnings issued: 1,012
Guns seized: 49
Estimated value of guns: $4,875
Estimated street value of cocaine: $5,306
Estimated street value of marijuana: $4,373.50
Estimated street value of illegally possessed prescription drugs: $4,560
Source: St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office and Fort Pierce Police Department