Police in south Alabama opened a new front in the war on drugs Wednesday. They even gave it a name: Operation Covington Cleanup.
When it was over, officers arrested more than four dozen people accused of dealing drugs at the street and organized level.
Depending on who you talk to, Operation Covington Cleanup is either an early morning wakeup call for drug dealers, because it started at 5 a.m. or it's a Christmas present for those who hate them.
"These neighborhoods during this most blessed time of the year can have a little peace from the drug dealing that's occurred on their streets," said Covington County District Attorney Greg Gambrill.
No matter which you believe, the numbers are pretty impressive. 60 police officers from Andalusia, Florala, Opp, Red Level, Lockhart, Gantt, and River Falls went hunting for drug suspects and nabbed more than 50 in a few short hours.
"Most of the people we've rounded up today are not names that are new to law enforcement. We've been getting information on them for years," Gambrill said.
Drug Task Force Commander Mark Odom explained how undercover officers targeted these people for almost a year.
"We made purchases of cocaine, crack cocaine, marijuana, prescription pills and methamphetimine from these individuals, and operational protocol said we had to make those purchases at least twice before we moved forward and signed a warrant," Odom said.
Four TV cameras recorded as officers brought suspects to an old warehouse for processing. Most didn't like the publicity they're now getting, and some questioned the timing.
"This is corruption county," exclaimed one suspect as officers led him away.
But Gambrill says he's less concerned about their complaints as opposed to the people who called police in.
"This operation was initiated because the communities were asking for help. And we wanted to show them and give them a Christmas gift," he said.
As officers drove some away, they also delivered another message to the suspects about how long they'd wait behind bars.
"Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year," one officer said.
Everyone arrested Wednesday will face a judge in the next day or two for their first court appearance. but they probably shouldn't expect to get out of jail quickly.
DA Greg Gambill says the sheriff cleared out the county jail when he sent several prisoners to state facilities, and he has plenty of room now.
In addition to that, a local judge has agreed to set high bonds for everyone charged in Wednesday's bust.
There might be even more trouble awaiting some of the supects. Gambrill says some may face federal weapons charges if they qualify for federal prosecution.
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