A five-month joint investigation by Santa Barbara police and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) resulted in 20 drug- and firearm-related arrests as of Friday. Starting November last year, informants for the ATF began working with the police’s Narcotics Unit to conduct a series of undercover drug and weapon buys. The agencies seized 10 different firearms, over three ounces of methamphetamine, two ounces of cocaine, and less than an ounce of heroin.
One of the operation’s missions was to find any possible connection between the drug dealers in the area and the international firearms trade. The Guardian describes the link as “a war sustained by a merry-go-round.” Dealers use profits from drug sales to fund weapons purchases, which in turn get used to protect drug shipments.
“We didn’t have an idea of where this would take us, but the idea was to conduct a lot of drug deals,” said police spokesperson Sgt. Riley Harwood. They would target high-level dealers, with undercover officers attempting to buy illegal weapons at the same time. He explained the relationship between federal agencies and local police as often based on shared targets. “Drugs are always a presence we are dealing with,” said Harwood. “But ATF has a mutual interest in getting illegal guns off the street.”
“They [ATF] have access to agents and informants that are not known by the criminal element in this area,” said Harwood. “We wanted to take advantage of that.” “A lot of drugs — even meth — have a cartel connection, but in some cases they are coming from elsewhere,” explained Harwood.
Nationally, most drug trafficking comes from Mexico. However, almost 80 percent of illegal guns in Mexico come from the U.S., where more than half-a-million guns are stolen every year and sold illegally, according to gun-trafficking statistics from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
In 2008 alone, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seized over 3,300 pounds of methamphetamine along the U.S. borders, and that’s just what isn’t making it through, according to statistics by the Florida-based Recovery Village treatment center. Some estimate the value of this illegal drug trade at up to $750 billion a year, said The International Business Times.
Charges against the 20 individuals in the City of Santa Barbara range from possession and sale of drugs to being a felon in possession of a firearm to child endangerment. Two landlords, Katherine Robinson, 55, and Lillian Stewart, 75, were charged with “maintaining a place to use or sell a controlled substance,” in connection with the drug sales. “It’s not something we use often,” Harwood said of the charge. He said three more arrests could be made in the next few weeks, and that the operation was an overall success.