CLEARWATER — Operation Fall Sweep was off to a slow start.
An hour and a half into the roundup of people wanted on felony charges Friday, and Clearwater police hadn't found any of the 25 men and women they were looking for.
"We've got to get someone," said Sgt. Benjamin McBride. "It's killing me."
The longer the sweep went on, the greater the chance that word would start to spread.
"When the word gets out — poof," McBride said.
But persistence was about to pay off.
As if on cue, McBride got the news he was waiting for. Two officers had picked up a man wanted on drug charges.
"Finally got one," McBride said.
"We just happened to stumble onto him," Officer Kevin Boyle said.
He and Officer Andrew Bellucci were actually looking for another person on their list when they found the 27-year-old man outside a neighborhood barbershop at Springdale Street and N Betty Lane.
Operation Fall Sweep was a joint effort between the Clearwater Police Department's community liaison officers, its brand-new anti-crime units and probation officers from the state Department of Corrections, who were checking up on parolees and probationers.
Scott Sandmeyer, Department of Corrections probation supervisor in Clearwater, said the partnership would "benefit the public because it creates an environment where we exchange information with each other."
Before officers went out, they were briefed by Lt. David Dalton and Chief Tony Holloway.
All of the suspects are accused of nonviolent offenses, Holloway said.
"Make sure we all go home tonight," he said. "There's no one on this list that's worth your life."
The operation highlighted two areas Holloway has vowed to focus on since he took over as chief in February: proactive enforcement and intelligence-led policing.
The latter is a model that uses accrued data to target enforcement to specific areas or crimes and relies on sharing information among different divisions or agencies.
For instance, Holloway said, the operation would familiarize community officers with probationers who live in the areas they cover.
After officers made their first arrest, things started to pick up: a juvenile wanted on drug charges, a woman accused of prostitution, a man who had sold narcotics to undercover detectives.
As of 6:30 p.m. Friday, several people had been arrested. Police planned to keep searching into the night.
The goal was to get wanted felons off the street, Holloway said.
And to send a message that has become a mantra for Holloway:
"Let them know that's not going to happen in our city."
Rita Farlow can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4157.