Dozens of criminals across Hall County slept comfortably Thursday morning, lulled by the steady sound of raindrops on their rooftops — but that was before law enforcement started knocking on doors.
Three months of undercover work by the Multi Agency Narcotics Unit culminated at 6 a.m. Thursday, as law enforcement began rounding up 72 suspects.
As of early evening, 52 had been arrested.
"Undercover agents go out, make purchases, and at that point the person will be identified," said Woodrow Tripp, commander of the Criminal Investigations Division. "Warrants will be obtained for them, then that's what we're doing today — executing those warrants."
Tripp said some individuals were arrested at the time of the sale, but agents waited on others.
"By doing that type of investigation, it gives you the ability to make multiple buys from someone. Which shows it's maybe not just a one-time thing but this is a habitual type person who continues to want to make sales," he said. "Also, by doing an investigation like that, it will lead you to other people who are selling narcotics."
The drug dealers ranged from street to upper level, but most had a similar reaction as they sat handcuffed in the back of the transport van.
"They'll always tell you, ‘I knew that was a cop,'" Tripp said. "Really? So you sold to him but you knew he was a cop? They don't know. They don't have any idea. In fact, when they get arrested like this, they don't have a clue that we're coming."
But avoiding suspicion isn't an easy task.
Tripp said the unit trains officers from lesser known departments to keep unfamiliar faces on the streets.
"There's no situation that's the same," he said.
"Everything is fluid and you can only train and prepare up to a certain point. You can prepare and expect this to happen, but it may deviate. So it's unlike a lot of jobs. If we screw up, we get killed."
The unit begins the process by getting names of potential drug dealers, usually from members of the community.
Tripp said tipsters come forward for a variety of reasons, ranging from working out a deal for themselves, knocking off competition to even an angry girlfriend.
Armed with this information, officers will set up a sale.
"We call it doper standard time. They tell you they'll be there at 10 (o'clock) and they show up at 12," Tripp said.
"If you set up a deal at 10 (o'clock), you have to be in place at 8 because you don't know if they're going to show up. You also don't know if they're going to run counter surveillance on you. ... There's all kinds of things when you're working drugs that go on besides the actual deal."
But on days like Thursday, all the hard work pays off.
Most the suspects were small-time dealers, but Tripp said that's not always a bad thing.
"Yeah, we're after the big ones, but it's these little guys who really affect the quality of life for everyone else," he said. "They're the ones selling to people who in turn are going out and burglarizing and stealing from those residents right around there."
High ranking officials from the Hall County Sheriff's Office as well as the Gainesville Police Department were on hand as suspects were brought in Thursday morning.
"This is a prime example of the cooperative efforts between the Hall County Sheriff's Office and the Gainesville Police Department," Sheriff Steve Cronic said.
"The men and women assigned to this agency, you don't always see them because they're undercover officers. But this is really an outstanding job that all the men and women have done."
Gainesville Police Chief Brian Kelly said the city has seen a decrease in the number of violent crimes since it began these proactive efforts.
"It is a very big priority," he said. "The sell of narcotics leads to other instances within the community. We also start experiencing an increase in thefts and burglaries to help support the habit. So it's always been a war on drugs.
"I think it's important that we don't forget those officers. Even in these trying times with budgetary issues, they're out here continuously serving our community. It's their unwavering dedication to their duty that makes our community one of the safest around."