Florida law enforcement is cracking down on the drug trade through an initiative dubbed Operation Safe Highways.
The operation is being carried out by the State and Local Law Enforcement Interdiction Strike Force, which was created by the Governor last summer.
Its mission is primarily to intercept human smugglers and traffickers, illegal weapons and narcotics, but as Action News Jax found out during a recent ride along with the strike force, the operation yields plenty of other arrests as well.
After signing a waiver, we were off with FHP Sergeant Dylan Bryan.
The first thing that caught our reporter’s eye was the Narcan overdose reversal drug on the passenger’s side of the center console.
It was a reminder of the ever-evolving threats law enforcement faces on the job as fentanyl has become more prevalent.
“It’s such a unique substance, a unique chemical, that a very, very small amount could be very detrimental to the safety of anybody involved,” said Bryan.
Since this strike force began, eight pounds of fentanyl have been seized.
It’s enough to kill 1.8 million people according to DEA calculations.
During our first stop, we came upon a man hunt that had been launched after a suspect with an outstanding warrant fled into nearby woods.
Drugs involved or not, Bryan noted situations like the one we encountered are part of the reason traffic stops are inherently dangerous for law enforcement.
Just this week, a traffic stop conducted by an FHP trooper led to an officer involved shooting.
“You know, traffic stops are a very dangerous part of the law enforcement profession. You never know what you’re going to get. This is very much so the unknown,” said Bryan.
At the second scene we came upon, a vehicle pulled over for following too closely behind another vehicle yelled an arrest for driving on a suspended license and a second for an outstanding warrant.
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38 other fugitives have been taken into custody by the strike force since last year.
Bryan explained even minor arrests made during these traffic stops can often lead to much larger hauls down the line.
“If they’re wanting to work with us and kind of go for the next step up, that supplier who is providing him the product and then the next step after that and as you see these things can kind of grow,” said Bryan.
This was the 15th operation conducted by the strike force.
Previous operations have generated over 150 drug and 40 human smuggling charges.
Bryan argued the efforts have been so successful in part, because our highways play a pivotal role in the illegal trades.
“These drug couriers or the traffickers, if you will, have to move their product and it seems to be the easiest way, cheapest way maybe for them is on our highways,” said Bryan. “And that’s why it’s so important that officers like our CIU teams and other members of the Florida Highway Patrol are out here and trying to keep the public safe.”
Action News Jax’s team members weren’t the only ones observing the operation.
There were also members of out-of-state agencies present as part of an interagency training operation.
Those law enforcement personnel were there to learn how FHP conducts its interdiction operations and will take that knowledge back home and put it into.