By Jim Patten
LAWRENCE — Police Chief John Romero vows his department will keep the pressure on to wipe out street-level drug activities in the city.
"This is the first of many we will be doing," Romero said yesterday about a day-long, city-wide sweep in which 16 people were arrested Wednesday.
After a two-year absence due to budget cuts that forced layoffs, demotions of senior officers and the dismantling of the Police Department's specialized crime fighting units, local street-level drug enforcement is back.
A day-long sweep Wednesday by members of the Street Narcotics Enforcement Unit and members of the Special Operations Unit, working with the Essex County Drug Task Force, the Drug Enforcement Administration's Cross Border Initiative, Andover and Lynn police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement led to 16 arrests and the seizure of about $10,000 in cash, 20 grams of heroin and 20 grams of crack cocaine.
"We haven't done a sting operation with an outside agency in two years," Romero said. "This was a routine thing and we are getting back to it now," he said.
Even though the narcotics unit was disbanded for two years, the officers continued to monitor suspected drug dealing locations in the city, Romero said.
"It wasn't a hard thing to get back to doing what they were doing before," Romero said, He noted the unit was still not up to full strength, but added the department is working toward increasing its numbers.
During Wednesday's investigation, the 39 officers were split into three teams and each team was assigned an area of the city for the buy-bust sweep.
Restoration of supervisory officers to their previous ranks by Mayor William Lantigua in late March enabled Romero to reactivate his Special Operations Division units.
"For the most part in last two years, we've relied solely on outside state and federal agencies for drug enforcement within the city," Romero said.
"But now, with the reinstatement of special operations, we will continue working with those agencies, while also having a continued presence within the department here, attacking the drug problem. Drugs fuel most of the crimes in the city. So, if you make an impact on the drug problem, you're going to impact all crime in the city — both violent and property crime," the chief said.
"The outside agencies have done a great job, but clearly, they have other responsibilities other than just Lawrence. These state and federal agencies cover a lot of area. To have the department presence back is going to go a long way in fighting the drug problem. You're going to see a significant increase in arrests and a subsequent reduction in crime," he said.
Local police-initiated sweeps will not be used exclusively on drug enforcement, according to Romero. Sweeps would be used to crack down on other types of crimes involving quality of life issues, he said.
Those arrested in Wednesday's sweep and their charges were:
Heidi Sousa, 36, Lowell, distribution of heroin, possession of heroin with intent to distribute near a school or park.
Eric Medina, 22, Tewksbury, conspiracy to violate drug laws.
Carlos Deleon, 35, 19 Winter St., possession of heroin.
Douglas Wilson, 42, 21 Brookfield St., distribution of heroin, possession of heroin with intent to distribute near a school or park, possession of cocaine.
Emily Cruz, 21, Danvers, distribution of heroin.
Laurie Vancoppenolle, 25, 107 Arlington St., knowingly being present where heroin is kept.
Marcial Guzman, 30, 74 Walnut St., driving without a license.
Christopher Sanchez, 20, 107 Garden St., possession of cocaine with intent to distribute in a school zone, possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, possession of heroin with intent to distribute, possession of heroin with intent to distribute near a school or park, distribution of cocaine, distribution of cocaine in a school zone.
Jorge Rivera, 30, 6 West St., possession of heroin.
Michele Vennochi, 41, 273 Main St., Danville, N.H., possession of heroin,
Paul Vennochi, 37, 273 Main St.,, Danville, N.H., knowingly being present where heroin is kept.
Jose Flores, 40, 508 Haverhill St., distribution of heroin, reckless operation of a vehicle, failure to stop for a police officer.
Heibrahim Delvalle-Baez, 25, 4 Winslow Place, distribution of heroin.
Jose Luna-Perez, 25, 62 Washington St., distribution of heroin.
Eric Montalvo, 26, 4 Wells St., distribution of heroin.
Police said Luna-Perez was found to be in violation of his immigration status and was held on a Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer for possible deportation.
Following the arrests of Montalvo and Rivera, police served a search warrant at the second floor apartment at 136-138 Willow St., and found drug packaging materials and paraphernalia, and plastic bags containing small quantities of suspected heroin and cocaine.