By Jay Meisel
FORT PIERCE - Community involvement helped make a summer operation to reduce violence successful, but more is needed, an official said last week.
Fort Pierce Police Chief R. Sean Baldwin said people who witness violent crime need to come forward and also testify in court, despite the fear of gangs.
"We cannot let the gangs destroy our community," he said. "We must overcome our fear."
Operation Summer Peace, which ran from May 31 to Aug. 18, involved a joint effort by the Fort Pierce Police Department and the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office aimed to crack down on crime and violence in north St. Lucie County.
During the operation, officers arrested 142 people on at least one felony charge and 361 on at least one misdemeanor, St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara said.
Law enforcement officers seized about $15,000 worth of marijuana, cocaine and prescription drugs and about $1,100 in prescription drugs, he said.
Sheriff Mascara and Chief Baldwin displayed the drugs and weapons during a press conference.
"There's nothing more dangerous for our community than young people with guns and drugs," the sheriff said.
Chief Baldwin said the confiscation of the drugs was especially important.
"That's 20 guns that won't be used to commit murders in our community," he said.
But, he also noted that last year officers in the summer operation confiscated more than 40 guns.
Considering that the officers this year worked just as hard, that may be an indication of fewer guns on the streets, he said.
Chief Baldwin also noted that the city didn't have a murder during the first six months of this year and that violent crime is down 40 percent.
"We're very thankful for that," he said.
He said the reduction indicates that the summer operation this year and those during the previous nine years are paying off.
Sheriff Mascara said that during the 10 years operations have been conducted, help from the community increased.
The community became a partner because people are fed up about crime, he said.
During the summer, several incidents stood out, said Lt. Douglas V. Hardie, head of the special investigations unit for the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office.
One involved arresting two men who committed a carjacking and rape and two other incidents led to apprehension of juveniles with guns, he said.
Lt. Hardie said juveniles having guns may be a result of the breakup of families.
"It seems like when children have nowhere to go, they resort to criminal activities," he said.