NEW PORT RICHEY — Standing beside a flier reminiscent of a wanted poster from the Old West, Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco wanted everyone to know he was laying down the law.
"We want criminals to know we are going to go out there and hunt them down," Nocco said at a news conference Friday to announce a multiagency warrants sweep that netted 244 people on 302 warrants.
Billed as the largest warrants roundup in the agency's history, "Operation Law and Order" began Tuesday and ended Thursday. It focused on people wanted for offenses in Pasco, as well as those with Pasco addresses who were wanted in connection with crimes committed elsewhere in Florida.
Flanked by Dade City police Chief Ray Velboom and New Port Richey acting police Chief James Steffens, as well as members of his own command staff, Nocco spread around the kudos.
"I promise you there were no egos here," he said. "It didn't matter what badge you wore."
The force of more than 100 law enforcement officials targeted hotels, other establishments and homes along U.S. 19 in Holiday, as well as along U.S. 301.
"We lit that whole place up," Nocco said of the Holiday raids.
No one was injured during the sweep, which involved numerous staffers, from jail nurses to dispatchers.
Fugitives ranged from drug dealers to those wanted for aggravated assault and battery. Some of the warrants dated back to 1988.
Deputies also seized a pound of marijuana and various pills.
One scene that Nocco described as heartbreaking involved the arrest of a woman riddled with needle marks. Sleeping in bed next to her was a 1 1/2-year-old boy. Deputies also found two bottles of prescription drugs.
"The problem with prescription pills is overwhelming," Nocco said. Deputies found a relative to take care of the toddler.
"At least we knew he was going to be taken care of that night," Nocco said.
The agency had a warrant backlog of 22,000. It typically gets 1,000 a month and serves 800, which produces a steadily growing backlog.
Nocco, who recently got county commissioners to give him money to hire 23 additional employees to combat prescription drug abuse, said the evidence found during the roundup shows the problem is real.
He also promised more warrant sweeps.
"This is not a one-time thing," he said. "This is a continuing process."