Crime

Sarasota gun sting nets 109 suspects and 82 illegal firearms, police say

The Sarasota Police Department and the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives agency concluded a month- long operation they say took 82 illegally owned guns off the streets of the city.

Police Chief Bernadette DiPino said along with the 82 seized firearms, 109 individuals have been arrested or identified as wanted suspects on a multitude of felony charges, including the sale of narcotics.

The police launched Operation SURGE in January, in cooperation with the ATF, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Florida State Attorney’s Office, and concluded the operation in September.

DiPino called the operation a “remarkable success.” ATF officials noted it’s the highest number of arrests for an operation like this one in the Tampa region for 2019.

Authorities used a combination of crime mapping and residents’ complaints to target a high-crime area of the city. Those arrested, along with the 12 suspects still on the loose, have 2,561 prior arrests and 687 felony convictions, DiPino said

In all, the operation netted 72 handguns, seven rifles and three shotguns.

“There was so much courage and heroism showed in this operation with the individuals working undercover to purchase these weapons,” DiPino said. “They were impressive in what they did ... used great heroism to bring these individuals to justice and get these guns off the street.”

DiPino said any time a gun falls in the hands of a convicted felon or is sold illegally, it “is going to be associated with crime. And these are not the old fashioned Saturday night specials, broken down guns. These are all high quality, expensive weapons capable of causing a lot of damage in our community.”

DiPino said Operation SURGE may have concluded, but she warned criminals trying to sell guns illegally in Sarasota that they will be caught.

“It doesn’t end here,” she said. “This operation is over but that doesn’t mean we don’t have others going on and will continue to have them going on.”

Breaking News/Real Time Reporter Mark Young began his career in 1996 and has been with the Bradenton Herald since 2014. He has won more than a dozen awards over the years, including the coveted Lucy Morgan Award for In-Depth Reporting from the Florida Press Club and for beat reporting from the Society for Professional Journalists to name a few. His reporting experience is as diverse as the communities he covers.
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