Deputies have rounded up roughly 40 area street-level drug trafficking suspects since Operation “Route 66” commenced Wednesday morning across Lincoln County.
The fourth and largest round-up in county history had suspects pouring into the magistrate’s office throughout the day on charges involving cocaine, heroin, marijuana and prescription pills, which more people are abusing, according to Lt. Jason Reid, head of the Sheriff’s narcotics unit and SWAT.
Reid said the increase is largely due to the pills’ high accessibility.
“They are easy to get a hold of, and anyone in the household can sell them,” he said.
While Sheriff David Carpenter expected his agency to apprehend between 20 and 25 of the more than 60 indicted this time around, officers greatly exceeded that goal.
During the operation, SWAT raided three homes on the central, western and eastern ends of the county, breaking down doors and handcuffing occupants. Some of the suspects’ left behind significant others and children inside the homes.
While alleged dealers may have been shocked to see 15 masked men storm their properties with guns this week, Major Lee Caskey felt the individuals should have anticipated law enforcement’s onslaught at some point.
“When you live that lifestyle, you kind of expect it,” he said.
Caskey also warned at-large dealers they have yet to outsmart officers.
“All the drug dealers we missed this time, we will get you next time — beware,” he said.
Carpenter said he strongly believes the county’s drug problem has only increased throughout his nearly three-decade career in law enforcement.
“Neighborhoods used to have just one dealer, but now they’re (dealers) everywhere,” he said.
More than 180 street-level dealers have been jailed from the agency’s round-ups since summer 2011.
The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office opts to target street-level dealers and traffickers rather than more prominent suppliers.
“It’s sometimes easier to work ourselves in with the lower-level dealers,” Reid said.
Higher-level dealers still remain on undercover officers’ radar.
“We’re doing everything we can to climb the food chain,” Reid said.
Despite the shocking number of charges contained in the indictments for “Route 66,” totaling more than 100, Carpenter reminded officers just before Wednesday’s operation briefing concluded that the dealers are human beings, worthy of respect.
“We treat them just like any other individuals,” he said. “We’re just trying to enforce the law.”
No suspects or officers were injured in Wednesday’s operation, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
All suspects who remain at large have been entered as “wanted” into the N.C. Aware database and may be picked up by other area agencies at any time.
Anyone with information on county drug activity can call the Sheriff’s Office tip line at (704) 736-8606.
Previous round-ups have included “Operation Rolling 50” in August 2011, “Operation .38 Special” in January and “Operation Midnight Special” in June.