After overseeing his first large-scale drug raid since taking the reigns at the Mobile Police Department, Chief Lawrence Battiste emphasized the “community” approach to policing expanded under his predecessor, Public Safety Director James Barber.

“We try to do the background work to make sure when we come into a community, we target individuals who are causing the crime,” Battiste said. “Our biggest goal in the last couple of years has been making sure we don’t disenfranchise a community through tactics that make people feel they’re being targets of the police because of their economic status.”

Battiste made those comments in front of an apartment complex on Baltimore Street Wednesday afternoon after police executed six search warrants targeting 13 individuals suspected of distributing drugs — part of Operation City H.E.A.T. (Heightened Enforcement and Apprehension Tactics).

Officers in Mobile made a series of simultaneous raids on Wednesday, May 24. (Jason Johnson)

City H.E.A.T. is a targeted operation MPD first rolled out in late 2016 to control an “uptick in violent crime,” with an emphasis on “illegal drug activity” and gun crimes.

Under the premise that “the vast majority of the city’s violent crime incidents occur in specific areas,” MPD has focused its efforts around R.V. Taylor, Five Points, Village Green and Providence Hospital.

In addition to undercover narcotics operations, MPD is also using “safety checkpoints” and “high-intensity directed patrols” in those areas. Safety checkpoints, which require all motorists to present a driver’s license, proof of insurance and vehicle registration to officers, function similarly to DUI roadblocks.

While the tactic has been met with criticism in the past, Battiste said Wednesday that safety checkpoints were simply another tool to identify individuals “causing crime.”

Wednesday’s raid targeted six locations on New Jersey Street Baltimore Street, O’Donnell Street, Gorgas Street, Dominick Street and Fern Court. In all, 13 individuals with arrest warrants were taken into custody on 39 felony and four misdemeanor charges.

Those arrested May 24 include:

After officers had completed the sweeping operation, Battiste told reporters the majority of those arrested had been implicated in controlled purchases of marijuana and crack cocaine conducted by undercover officers and informants deployed by MPD over the past few months.

During the operation, police recovered approximately one gram of crack cocaine, two grams of marijuana, two pistols and one rifle.

While drug offenses helped build the case for Wednesday’s multi-site operation, Battiste said the MPD is trying to target the violent crime associated with the sale of illegal narcotics as well.

Lawrence Battiste was named Chief of the Mobile Police Deparment in March 2017. (Jason Johnson)

“When you have guys selling drugs, sometimes people get ripped off and want to and retaliate or sometimes when people buy drugs their intent is to rip off the person selling the drugs,” Battiste said. “In either case, it creates the atmosphere where people want to shoot each other up and usually what happens is innocent bystanders are the ones who are impacted.”

Though he didn’t give specific dates, Battise said that reports of gunshots fired or individuals being shot prompted MPD to investigate at least some of the six areas that were included in Wednesday’s operation — four of which were simultaneously targeted by police.

At least one of the suspects, Cochise Pettway, 32, was also found to be in possession of a stolen handgun when he was taken into custody.

The operation wrapped up shortly after 1 p.m., and the time of the operation was intentionally set during school hours to avoid children who might be live in the areas targeted by the MPD — an approach

“We don’t want to do anything to alienate particularly our younger generation against law enforcement. When we’re walking out someone’s dad, their cousin or somebody that they know in handcuffs, it can make them see us in a different light,” he said. “We also never know what someone may or may not do, and of course, if he or she decides they don’t to go peacefully, we don’t want to have children running around. Our main concern is their safety.”

On Thursday, May 24, Police in Mobile will be conducting “safety checkpoints” from 7:30 p.m. to midnight in the Dickens Ferry and Old Shell Road area (left) and intersection of Martin Luther King and Broad Street area. (Google)

The MPD will be continuing with Phase II of Operation City H.E.A.T. on Thursday evening, with “safety checkpoints” operating from 7:30 p.m. to midnight in the Dickens Ferry and Old Shell Road area as well as the intersection of Martin Luther King and Broad Street area.