On Friday, Mobile police descended on nine separate properties known for drug activity in the Maysville area, resulting in nine arrests and two temporary restraining orders placed on nuisance properties.
“Operation May Day,” as it was referred to, is another instance of the department’s holistic approach to dealing with notorious drug properties that have facilitated illegal activity for decades.
After nearly four months of investigation and hours of surveillance footage and undercover drug purchases, authorities also brought 19 arrest warrants with them for violent or repeat offenders.
Though only five of those with warrants were apprehended, joining four additional suspects who were arrested on possession charges, MPD Chief James Barber called the operation a success.
“We were able to get the outcome we wanted, which was to stop the illegal drug activity in the Maysville community,” Barber said. “Right now, we’ve got a temporary hold on it and we’re working diligently with community leaders to keep that hold.”culminated in May, when a “crack house” that had operated for decades was demolished.
The city later brought a civil injunction against the owner of the home at the corner of Kennedy and State streets, before purchasing the property and turning it over to the Martin Luther King Redevelopment Authority.
Though it’s still early in the process, the two properties under today’s restraining orders may face the same fate.
The owner of a residence on Cottrell Street was not currently living there, but according police, the owner of a second house on Plover street was participating in drug activity there.
Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich was also on scene during the raids to talk about her department’s involvement in the operation.
“The places these drug houses are operating are extremely close to four school zones,” Rich said. “It’s important that we get in here and clean up the streets and clean up these houses and make sure people are charged and prosecuted for the drug offenses so that we can upgrade this neighborhood.”
The schools in the area include Craighead Elementary School, George Hall Elementary School, Mae Eanes Middle School and Williamson High School, and Barber said children were walking by sales of marijuana and cocaine on a daily basis.
The proximity also means a potential sentence upgrade for those convicted of selling drugs within a three-mile radius of schools, a law outlined in the School Zone Enhancement Act. Rich said mandatory sentencing guidelines have made the law harder to enforce in the courtroom, but added her office would be using it in these particular cases.
Under the law, a five-year prison sentence is applied for each conviction, but so far, only five of the 19 suspects are facing charges. Barber said the absence of suspects could have been side effect of another one of the department’s newer approaches to policing drug-prone areas — sharing intelligence with community stakeholders.
“We made it no secret that we were coming,” Barber said. “We’ve been very candid that we were coming to put a stop to it, which is why you saw what you saw today and had a lot of search warrants being executed where nobody was home.”
At a meeting the night before with community and church leaders in Maysville, Barber and other officers outlined some of the evidence against 19 individuals and showed surveillance footage of the drug activity.
He said that openness with the community served to ensure the actions police take are both acceptable in the areas they are being applied to, but also to actively invest the community into ensuring the neighborhoods continue to improve after the operations are complete.
The other benefit of sharing police intelligence is in how it allows community leaders to play a critical role in the Second Chance or Else (SCORE) program, which was implemented for the first time in the Campground operation eight months ago.
A partnership with the MPD, the Mobile County Public Department, Spring Hill College and U.S. Attorney Kenyen Brown’s office, SCORE gave nine non-violent, low-level drug dealers a chance to avoid the charges against them.
Instead, they were enrolled in fatherhood courses, drug addiction counseling and provided job training and opportunities for employment. Though similar programs have been attempted, what makes SCORE different is the role a panel of community leaders plays in the process.
The same program is currently being implemented in Maysville, and ahead of Friday’s extensive drug raids, the council offered the program to five more drug dealers.
According to Barber, only one of those individuals was reached today, but organizers are attempting to track down the rest.
According to Dr. Harold Dorton, a sociology instructor at Spring Hill College, SCORE helps make drug dealers accountable to a larger group of people, but also gives those respected in the community an avenue to influence anyone conducting illegal activity in the neighborhoods.
“The elimination of the drug markets is huge, but without getting the investment of the community, that’s a really short-term solution,” Dorton said at the Nov. 19 meeting. “SCORE catches the headlines, but that’s only part of what this program is really doing. The community itself is becoming more organized and becoming more of a partner to law enforcement.”
After the last arrest was processed, Barber told reporters the prolific drug activity had stopped in Maysville. He also said the evidence against all 19 of those identified has been documented and “isn’t going anywhere.”
“If you look at it as nothing but a capture rate, obviously a surprise is the best way, but once you’re caught in an undercover operation selling drugs, you can run, but the warrants still exist,” Barber said. “You also have to realize that not everybody knows who has warrants on them, so because there’s 14 more drug dealers we’re looking for. Every drug dealer is running.”
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