A two-month investigation into heroin sales in Modesto culminated last week with the arrest of 32 people and the seizure of more than 7 ounces of the drug.
The Modesto Police Departments Narcotics Enforcement Team served nine search warrants at the homes of suspected heroin dealers. About a dozen were arrested on suspicion of sales while the remainder face other types of drug offenses, child endangerment charges, and violations of parole or probation.
Tips from the public, intelligence and evidence from patrol officers, records research and surveillance were among the investigative techniques that led to the search warrants, said Officer Chris Adams.
After the majority of the warrants were served on Monday, word quickly spread.
We talked to a few officers who said word on the street is that the narcotics unit is going hard on heroin, Adams said. They are all on watch, so its harder to find right now. And thats what we want, we want the dealers and users to know that we are watching them.
The unit targeted street-level dealers who are about four people removed from those who are smuggling kilos of heroin over the U.S./Mexico border, said MNET Sgt. Kelly Rea.
The street-level dealers generally buy anywhere from 3 grams for $120 to an ounce for $800 at a time and sell it to a large number of users in small amounts for $10 to $20.
They often are dealing to support their own habits, Rea said, unlike the people above them who more often work regular business hours and live otherwise normal lives.
Most of the people arrested were unkempt, their clothes were dirty and their hair matted, their faces were gaunt and many had open sores typical indicators of prolonged heroin use, Adams said.
Marjorie Copley, 82, said those are the types of people she sees coming and going from her small apartment complex on J Street. A man who lives in the complex was among the people arrested on suspicion of selling heroin. Rea said before officers moved in to arrest the suspected dealer, a small group of people bought heroin from him through an open window.
Even as the police searched the home of Carmelo Colon, 58, other suspected users arrived at the scene, watching from across the street or even asking officers what happened to him.
Copley, who has lived in her downtown apartment for 20 years, said every time one drug dealer moves out another will take his place. She said very few good neighbors stay for any length of time because of the drug activity in the area.
Rea said heroin sales are common in downtown Modesto where many homeless people congregate. Several search warrants were also served in the airport neighborhood where drug activity is considerable. But the most search warrants served in one area three were executed near Briggsmore and Rose avenues.
From the homeless on the streets to those living in wealthy Modesto neighborhoods, heroin addiction has become more widespread in the past five to seven years and reached younger generations, many of whom begin their opiate addiction with prescription drugs, experts say.
In some of the flophouses searched, officers encountered hazards like uncapped and used syringes and filthy living conditions. At a home in the airport neighborhood, raw sewage drained from a trailer in the front yard while some 60 needles littered every room of one home in west Modesto.
Six children from the ages of 2 to 11 were taken by Child Protective Services from three locations. Adams said they were living in homes where drugs and paraphernalia were easily accessible, like on end tables or the edge of a bathtub.
Two firearms and about $3,500 cash were also seized during the three-day operation.
Adams said the unit regularly responds to complaints and investigates heroin-related crimes but large-scale operations like this convey that its officers understand and are responding to the severity of the heroin problem in Modesto.