FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – This is a story of a community fighting to take back its streets and working with Fort Lauderdale police to make that happen.
Residents heard the sound of a Black Hawk helicopter overhead Wednesday morning as police and U.S. Marshals rounded up 22 people on drug and racketeering charges. They call it “Operation Bad Karma.”
Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Franklin Adderley says this was the result of a six month undercover operation.
“For over a year, we’ve been answering complaints of open drug sales and violence in the streets of South Middle River,” he said. “And we feel that these individuals played a pivotal role in those crimes that were being committed over the past year.”
Sal Gatanio has lived in South Middle River, a community of about 5,000 residents from Sunrise Boulevard north to Wilton Manors, for nearly a decade and is the former president of the community association. Gatanio says as soon as he moved in he knew there was a serious crime problem.
“We found out right away that 13th Street was known as crack alley where they sell drugs in the middle of the street, 24 hours a day,” Gatanio said.
Gatanio says there were also home break-ins and car thefts. He says the community worked together to identify the people selling drugs and committing crimes and communicated that information to police.
“We have people on every single street in this community that will spot drug dealing operations and they will report it to each other,” Gatanio said.
Adderley says the community involvement in South Middle River is unlike anything he’s seen.
“I think you have a large group of individuals that are very much concerned with the activity around them and they are a good partner with the police in providing information so we can address it,” Adderley said.
South Middle River has seen several murders in the past 10 months.
Community activist Robert Regan was murdered just days after he apparently informed on suspected drug dealers.
Last January, two young men were found murdered behind a duplex. Investigators say they’re trying to solve those crimes.
But for now, residents like Sal Gatanio say these people being locked up is a big victory for this community.
“This was the best news that we’ve heard in years,” he said. “Nobody breaks us. And now that we’ve won and we’ve succeeded, the skies the limit for South Middle River.”
Investigators told CBS4 that more arrests are expected.