"Illegal drug activity is everywhere across the country and throughout the state," Brazil City Police Chief Terry Harrison told The Brazil Times. "It's everywhere, in large metropolitan cities and small towns like in Clay County."
In 2006, a massive raid led to 27 suspects being arrested for drug-related allegations. The ongoing investigation from that drug sweep, along with tips provided by the public, led to an additional 40 warrants issued this week and to more than 30 arrests by law enforcement officers.
"These are the people the citizens of our community have complained about, the ones they wanted out of their communities," Clay County Sheriff Mike Heaton said.
No high-profile arrests were made in the recent drug sweep that focused mainly on getting local dealers off the streets, but officials explained that doesn't mean these suspects aren't as equally important as the big-time dealers/suppliers.
"These individuals are the people in the drug community who are most likely to introduce kids to drugs and they don't care who has $25 to spend on drugs," Heaton said. "We are protecting children by removing them from the streets."
However, local law enforcement agencies have been involved in the investigations of, arrests of and subsequent federal indictments of 33 high-profile drug dealers from Clay County.
"There were several people from Clay County, including Steve Hood, Shaun Clarke, Greg Vanes, Ryan Batchelor and several others responsible for bringing pounds of meth into Clay County who were indicted and convicted on federal charges," CCSD former drug detective and current Chief Deputy Rob Gambill said. "Because of the previous arrests of the big fish in 2006, and the many more drug arrests that we've made up to this week when we brought in the minnows, we know that we have created such a hostile environment that it has forced some of the big drug suppliers and dealers to move out of our community."
"They know it's not safe here for them. In Clay County, we're going after both the big fish and the minnows," Heaton added. "We have to arrest the minnows, because, if left alone, they grow up to be big fish."
According to officials, as quickly as they catch one person involved in the drug culture, another eagerly takes their place.
"But, when we catch one person, it usually leads to another," Harrison said. "Fighting to keep drugs out of our community is a big job. We only have a few local law enforcement officers available out there fighting against drug dealers in a county of more than 24,000 people. So we understand the frustration people have about drugs in their communities."
Creating the framework of a drug case with the potential of a conviction is a lengthy, time-consuming process. Officials agree it is best to catch an individual in the act, like during a traffic stop, but it's not always that easy.
"Just because someone says John Doe is a drug dealer, it doesn't mean law enforcement can kick down his door and arrest him," Gambill said. "It takes extensive man-hours to investigate each drug case."
Information provided by disgruntled residents tired of dealing with the nightmare of having their neighborhoods infested with crime is crucial to law enforcement.
"There is an old saying about strength in numbers, and it's true. We encourage people to continue to call with information about suspicious activity in their neighborhoods," Harrison said. "The number of drug arrests would definitely drop without the public input. The only way to beat back drugs in our community, and keep them out, is for people to report suspicious activity to law enforcement."
If the tips keep coming and officers are able to secure enough evidence for an arrest warrant during the ongoing investigation, officials agree there will be more arrests.
"If we have this many cases a year or a month from now, we will do this again," Heaton said. "If you bury your head and think it's not happening, you're wrong. By no means are we done investigating drugs in this community. This is an ongoing investigation."