It's a Vermont Drug Task Force mission six months in the making. Operation Precision Valley put more than 100 police officers to work tracking down heroin and cocaine dealers in the greater Springfield area.
We rode along with Sgt. Garry Scott and Senior Trooper Travis Valcourt as they attempted to take Ashlee Stilwell into custody for allegedly selling narcotics. The troopers tracked the 24-year-old to a store in Weston where she worked. She was one of 33 people arrested during Wednesday's operation.
"The result of today's arrests will certainly have an impact on the area long term," Vt. State Police Col. Tom L'Esperance said.
Authorities say they were three arrests shy of their goal. Twenty-six Vermonters were taken into custody, including one Springfield city employee. Seven suspects from New Jersey were also arrested. All the defendants were booked at the barracks, and then shipped to Windsor County court for arraignments. Police say the alleged out-of-state dealers have violent criminal records and gang affiliations.
"There's a group coming up here, we've named them the Jersey boys," Springfield Police Chief Douglas Johnston said.
Johnston says they've settled in his city because demand and profit margins are high. Residents say drug deals have become a common sight and addiction is taking its toll on their community.
"A lot of community resources get burned up fighting this epidemic on the streets around here and it affects everybody," said Stephen Greene of Springfield.
Police say roundups like this one cut off the drug supply temporarily, but authorities need to work with community partners to achieve a long-term solution.
"It's one thing to address the supply, but we need to address the demand," Vt. Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn said. "We're going to be calling not only on the education components in the community, but we need to look at rehabilitative approaches."
And police say the fight is far from over. Street enforcement must continue to prevent a new round of dealers from replacing the ones this operation locked up.
"We're not going to let them get comfortable," Johnston said. "We're going to keep hitting them as hard as we can. It may be a long time before they get the message but we're not going to give up the fight on our end."
Police say three suspects remain on the loose-- Luis Rodrigues of Springfield, Vt., and Anthony Figheroa and Daniel Ramos of New Jersey. If convicted, each of the 36 suspects faces 5-20 years in prison.
Authorities say since the operation cut off the drug supply, they expect a significant rise in addicts showing up at area hospitals seeking detox.
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