“The recent shootings in our country have turned the topic of guns into a national conversation, but here at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, we have never stopped focusing on one thing when it comes to this issue: taking guns out of the hands of violent felons,” said Sheriff David Gee as he announced the results of a major undercover investigation that drew detectives within yards of the nearby elementary school.
Front of dozens of media representatives, Gee announced the conclusion of “Operation Cease Fire” – a six month-long operation, ending in a wave of arrests of convicted felons who sold guns and drugs across the street from Gibsonton Elementary School.
Gee said that in July 2012, a confidential tip about drugs led investigators and detectives of HCSO’s Special Investigations Division to a consignment store located at 7724 Gibsonton Drive – once a flower shop.
“In most cases, a tip about drugs will lead HCSO undercover detectives to illegal guns and violent felons with guns, and this case was no exception,” Gee said, adding that in this operation, however, the undercover drug and gun transactions took place less than 175 feet away from an elementary school, and that most of the transactions took place after school hours.
During the course of the investigation, undercover detectives made drug and gun transactions with the suspects inside this consignment shop. Our detectives put their lives on the line, knowing they were dealing with dangerous, armed felons. In one instance, a detective encountered unexpected gunfire when a suspect spontaneously fired his gun into the ground to demonstrate the effectiveness of a silencer, Gee said.
At the end, “Operation Cease Fire” resulted in the arrests of 10 people and the arrest warrants of three others.
Deputies are still on the hunt for those three at-large suspects. The 10 individuals arrested are identified as convicted felons who sold 34 firearms and 49 silencers to undercover detectives.
The guns removed from the streets include an AR-15, AK-47 style rifle, 22 caliber rifle with silencer, sawed-off shotguns, and sniper-type rifles with night vision.
Detectives also purchased trafficking amounts of narcotic prescription drugs, crack cocaine, and methamphetamine.
Gee emphasized that the fact that detectives busted a criminal enterprise next to an elementary school will translate to enhanced charges for some of the suspects involved.
Hillsborough County State Attorney Mar Ober, was also on hand and said that due to the location of the illegal gun operation those arrested may face up to 40 years in prison, but added, “These individuals are, of course entitled their day in court.”
The detectives who targeted the suspects work in a specialized gun squad focus solely on crimes involving guns and felons in possession of firearms.
” he guns you see before you today are firearms confiscated by this exceptional group of detectives,”Gee said and added that last year alone, this group of detectives bought 52 guns in undercover operations and that 41 of the 52 firearms were sold by 17 convicted felons.
Last year, HCSO arrested 118 felons in possession of a firearm, and 80 people for unlawfully carrying concealed firearms, while deputies impounded more than 1500 guns as evidence in some type of crime in 2012.
Gee especially pointed out that illegal guns in the hands of convicted felons also continues to be a life or death issue for law enforcement.
“We continually witness the same tragic tale of police officers killed in the line of duty by felons in possession of a firearm, Gee said. ”
Over the last three years in Florida, some very deadly ones for police officers, the statistics show nearly 85 percent of the cop killers are armed convicted felons. In 2012, and in 2010, 100 percent of the gunfire used to kill law enforcement officers came from convicted felons.
With the success of “Operation Cease Fire”, along with our other proactive measures – we remain steadfast in our commitment to take these dangerous guns off the streets, arrest armed felons, and break up these criminal enterprises, particularly when they are operating across the street from places like an elementary school in Hillsborough County,” Gee said.
The Sheriff’s Office also plans to host a gun buyback program in five locations next month.