Christmas came early for some area residents this morning, but instead of colored lights and holiday cheer, they were greeted with search warrants and handcuffs as city police executed its first drug round-up of 2012.
A month after the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office swept the county of more than 60 street-level dealers in its fourth roundup in nearly two years, police followed suit with a similar effort, called “Operation Early Christmas,” which commenced 6 a.m. Wednesday.
“We hope to get as many offenders as possible in one day,” Lincolnton Police Chief Rodney Jordan told the Times-News on Tuesday.
The initiative is also the Lincolnton Police Department’s fourth roundup in two years, said Lt. Brian Greene, head of criminal investigations.
Greene believes such large-scale operations are necessary for safeguarding the community and reminding criminals that illegal behavior “will not be tolerated,” according to an agency press release.
“It takes people off the streets,” he said.
Officers hope to nab 59 offenders in “Operation Early Christmas.” Together, the wanted residents of Lincoln, Catawba and Gaston counties are accused of more than 200 felony charges.
While a majority of the charges are drug-related, including drug trafficking and selling and delivering cocaine, marijuana, bath salts and pharmaceutical drugs such as Hydrocodone, Percocet and Valium, a handful of charges stem from non-drug-related offenses.
Police hope to use the operation to target additional offenders, accused of offenses such as shooting into occupied territory.
Before carrying out this month’s operation, investigators said they tried to thoroughly utilize their criminal informants during the course of the year-long investigation.
“You want to use them (informants) as much as possible before you have to name them in court,” Greene said.
Chief Jordan told the Times-News that while some street dealers remain partial to crack cocaine, what he called “the drug of choice” during the 1980s and 1990s, officers have witnessed a “switch” to prescription pills.
“While many young people often obtain these drugs from parents’ and friends’ medicine cabinets, many resort to using false prescriptions and stealing to get the drugs,” he said.
Jordan remained confident drug-related crimes lead to other offenses.
“There is a misconception…drug crimes only hurt the people who use them,” he said. “This couldn’t be further from the truth. Drug use often leads to other crimes to support habits such as larceny, fraud and even more violent crimes such as murder, robbery, assaults, etc…”
During the last year, the department’s lone, full-time narcotics investigator, Det. Sgt. Jason Munday, conducted numerous undercover operations and completed 1,000s of hours of preparatory work for “Operation Early Christmas,” the release said. Fellow city officers assisted Munday on certain occasions.
More than eight other area law enforcement agencies are assisting the Lincolnton Police in the roundup including police departments in Hickory, Maiden, Gastonia, Dallas and Stanley along with North Carolina Probation and Parole, Gaston County Sheriff’s Office and the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office.
Out-of-county agencies will be arresting individuals outside of the city’s jurisdiction while local deputies will be assisting officers at the courthouse and magistrate’s office, transporting suspects to and from the county jail.
In the press release, Lincolnton Police officials specifically thanked the following individuals from both the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office and criminal justice system for their help in the operation: Lincoln County Sheriff David Carpenter, Lt. Tim Johnson and his detectives, Lt. Alan Houser and his detention officers, Magistrates D. Peeler and D. Martin, District Attorney Rick Shaffer, Assistant District Attorney Michael Miller, Clerk of Court Fred Hatley and the entire staff of the Lincoln County Clerk of Court’s Office and District Attorney’s Office.
“Without these individuals, these roundups would not be possible,” Greene stated in the release.
Last December, Lincolnton Police carried out “Operation 16 Days of Christmas,” arresting nearly 100 offenders on more than 400 charges. In addition, the initiative spanned a more than two-week period to prevent overcrowding the county jail, police said. More than half of the wanted suspects were taken into custody later that month.
Jordan encouraged the community to help officers in the ongoing fight against drugs. Individuals may report drug activity by calling the Lincoln County Drug Tip Line at (704) 736-8606, Crime Stoppers at (704) 736-8909 or any of the area law enforcement agencies. In addition, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office maintains a permanent site for unwanted medications, which can be dropped off 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“While it would be naive for me to think that we (officers) could ever completely eliminate the problem (of drugs)…we have a duty as cities, counties and states to use whatever resources we have to keep up the fight against drugs,” he said.
“Operation Early Christmas” is ongoing.