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With the number of suspected drug users and dealers arrested during Operation Street Sweeper expected to top more than 100 people, Sheriff Bill Farmer says it’s the largest drug sweep in Sumter County since he’s been in office, and that’s been for the past 16 years.
“A lot of people were surprised with the amount of arrests and that suspects came from all segments of society – from professionals on down,” he said. “We arrested the young and we arrested older folk.” People were arrested from the northern portion of the county through the southern portion.
With the final arrests still filtering in from the six-month-long operation, Farmer calls the amount of suspects picked up “mindboggling.”
“To arrest this many people at one time for purchasing and selling drugs is astronomical,” he said.
Drug sweeps are nothing new in Sumter County. Farmer has actively organized the sweeps throughout his tenure as sheriff.
“Since I came to office, I’ve wanted to get a handle on drug trafficking and we’ve continued to pursue it for 16 years.”
During his original campaign to become sheriff, one of Farmer’s top priorities was going after and arresting drug dealers.
“I firmly believe that drugs contribute to all other crimes,” he said. “If you can get a handle on drugs, you can control other crimes in the county – anything from petty thefts to burglaries.”
Drug operations like Street Sweeper start with a small group of undercover officers.
“The officers work a lot of hours and odd hours,” said sheriff’s Lt. Bobby Caruthers. “They are on doper’s time.”
That may mean, that the time or location for a buy could change several times before an actual purchase is made.
“It’s a very tedious job that they do,” Caruthers said. “But, these guys will tell you that it’s well worth it in the end.”
As drugs buys are made and evidence is collected, other officers are added to the operation to begin the process of making arrests.
“We will utilize the deputies that are on patrol, bring in off-duty deputies and we get assistance from local police agencies at that time,” he said.
In Street Sweeper, arrests were made in two phases – one in the northern end of the county, the other in the southern end.
“In this operation, we chose to catch the drug dealers by surprise when they were asleep and also to help protect people that would be starting their day or going out to school or work.”
While Street Sweeper is considered a very successful operation, Farmer said the department is already beginning work on a similar operation.
“As soon as one ends, another one starts,” he said.