LAWRENCE — A large-scale investigation that spanned at least a year, involved 100 officers and took 79 weapons off the streets of Greater Lawrence has officials all wanting the same thing: more, please.
Friday’s announcement of “Operation Emerald Crush,” a local, state and federal investigation that resulted in 32 arrests, more than half of them Trinitario gang members, was welcome news for Lawrence police Chief Roy Vasque and Methuen police Chief Joseph Solomon.
Both said they were concerned with a noticeable uptick recently in juvenile-related crimes — crimes including shootings, drug transactions, robberies and carjackings.
Those incidents dovetailed with Operation Emerald Crush, details of which were unveiled by U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling in Boston on Friday after a series of early morning arrests.
“There are a lot of good officers at LPD doing great work and making a difference,” Vasque said. Still, he added, they always welcome help from any and all outside agencies.
“This is not a one and done. This is going to be a continued effort,” Vasque said. “All of this is a force multiplier and it’s huge. I’ve had a lot of conversations with the U.S. attorney. He’s committed to doing this.”
Vasque said he’s assigned Lawrence officers to work with federal investigation units “to strengthen our partnerships to bring more resources to Lawrence.”
Solomon said a Methuen officer is assigned to work with the FBI on a full-time basis. Several weeks ago, after shootings involving juveniles, Solomon said he reached out to federal gang experts for help “with our ongoing gun and gang violence.”
After learning of the details of Operation Emerald Crush on Friday, Solomon noted, “This connects directly with the juvenile crime.”
On Friday, Special Agent in Charge Joseph Bonavolonta spoke directly about Trinitario gang members who he said are “hard wired for violence” and linked to a variety of illicit crimes throughout the Greater Lawrence area.
Juveniles associated with the Trinitarios, known as “Baby Trinis” are selling firearms and being recruited at Methuen and Lawrence highs schools, Bonavolonta, of the FBI Boston Division, said.
“Some of our young people are being lured in to participate in all aspects of this gang,” Bonavolonta said.
Four teens sold investigators firearms during the operation, he said.
“There is certainly no question we have more to do and we’re far from finished,” Bonavolonta said. “Aggressively, we will continue to attack violent crime with all of our resources because every law-abiding citizen must be free to walk down any street in any one of our cities without the fear of getting caught in the cross hairs of a violent crime.”
Those charged in Operation Emerald Crush are residents of Methuen, Lawrence, Haverhill, Lynn, and Salem, Mass. The majority are adults; two are listed as juveniles.
Local police are also grappling with the robbing and carjacking of two pizza delivery drivers this month, crimes linked to teens.
Last week, a 15-year-old from Methuen and a 17-year-old from Lawrence were arrested and face a lengthy list of charges after the carjacking of a pizza delivery driver in Lawrence.
Juveniles arrested in the criminal justice system are not named by police. They are arraigned in juvenile court which is not open to the public or the press.
It still unclear if the teens charged last week have any gang affiliation or any connection to a Nov. 6 crime spree that included several carjackings in Lawrence, Methuen and North Andover and an assault on an off-duty police officer in Plaistow.
Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera applauded the outside state and federal agencies for “making Lawrence safer.”
“Illegal guns drive violence in all communities in the Merrimack Valley. I hope they can continue their work,” said Rivera.
Echoing Vasque and Solomon, Rivera said, “I would say do more, more, more of these efforts” and noted gang members are major players in the local opioid trade.
“Keep it coming,” Rivera said.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.