Law officers were out knocking on doors Thursday in frigid predawn temperatures, rousing drug suspects from their beds in a roundup aimed at addressing crimes that affect neighborhood quality of life.
The arrests capped a two-month-long investigation Hall County Sheriff’s officials dubbed “Operation: Safe Streets” that targeted drug sales, pandering and prostitution and sales of alcohol to minors across Hall County, Sheriff Steve Cronic said.
“Looking toward the holiday season, where you would see a spike in our burglaries and thefts ... a lot of these things we hit are closely associated with thefts — people that steal to support drug habits,” Cronic said.
Since early October, 59 people have been arrested on drug charges, including eight Thursday morning. Most were charged with sale of cocaine or methamphetamine.
In addition, authorities arrested 16 store clerks and one store customer at their homes today on misdemeanor charges of furnishing alcohol to minors. The sheriff’s office, using underage operatives, checked 56 Hall County stores for compliance. Of those, 16 stores, or 29 percent, sold to underage officers, authorities said.
The sheriff noted that alcohol-related car crashes tend to increase around the holidays, and sales of alcohol to underage buyers play a role.
“We thought it was important to look into that issue and take some proactive steps,” Cronic said.
Though the buys were made over the last two months, all the clerks were arrested Thursday so that employees at other stores wouldn’t get wind of the undercover operation, Capt. Woodrow Tripp said.
Nine people were also arrested in the last two months on charges of pandering, pimping, or operating a house of prostitution. Several undercover officers were used during the operation.
Those arrested on drug charges Thursday were brought in from a wide area, from small, low-income homes off Athens Road to a million-dollar houseboat in Buford.
They were processed and loaded onto a bus at a mobile command post in the parking lot of the Bethel Church of the Nazarene, near where some neighborhood complaints have come, officials said.
“This show of force we hope will act as a further deterrent and send a message to anyone thinking of filling the void created by these people being taken off the street,” Cronic said.
The roundup was similar to operations targeting drug offenders that were conducted by officials in September and October 2008.
The “quality of life” crimes “go hand-in-hand” with property crimes like theft and burglary, sheriff’s officials said.
“This is a concentrated effort to make the holidays a little safer and reduce crime,” Cronic said.
About nine people are still wanted on outstanding drug warrants.
“We’ll continue to look for them until they’re all rounded up,” Cronic said.