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Greenville, Ayden police 'stir the hornets' nest' with crackdown operation

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Greenville Police Chief Mark Holtzman speaks during a press conference on "Operation Hornets' Nest" on July 13, 2017. (Joe Pellegrino/The Daily Reflector)

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By Beth Velliquette
The Daily Reflector

Friday, July 14, 2017

A partnership between Greenville and Ayden police departments targeting gang activity resulted in 86 arrests and the seizure of 11 firearms and marijuana, crack cocaine and heroin, officials announced Thursday.

Greenville Police Chief Mark Holtzman and Ayden Police Chief Barry Stanley held a joint news conference at the Ayden Police Department on Thursday morning to announce the results of Operation Hornets’ Nest.

One Ayden officer worked with a small team of gang officers in Greenville to investigate gang activity involving drugs and weapons.

Holtzman called it a very successful operation, and Stanley said the partnership with Greenville police was a huge boon for his small department.

In addition to the 11 firearms that were seized, police also seized 366.5 grams of marijuana, 107 grams of crack or cocaine, 30.6 grams of heroin and 3.8 grams of Schedule IV drugs, which includes depressants and stimulants.

Holtzman and Stanley began talking about a partnership about a year ago because the same people were going back and forth between Ayden and Greenville committing the same types of violent crime. They devised a plan that one Ayden officer would join the gang unit in Greenville so they could conduct investigations that crossed their city limits.

“As they came together in the beginning of November this past year, this operation started,” Holtzman said. “This operation was born out of some continuing hotspot gang activity, violent crime activity and drug activity in the south end of Greenville, and we were seeing the same individuals going back and forth between the two towns.”

Starting in June, officers began going out and arresting the suspects. There are nine people on their list who are still wanted.

The drug buys took place in many indoor and outdoor locations. In some cases, children were present during the drug sales, Holtzman said.

”They were near playgrounds, in the apartment complexes, and when we went to serve the warrants, some of these individuals were so violent that the Greenville Emergency Response Team, our SWAT team, actually had to go serve the warrants,” Holtzman said.

At one residence, people inside began throwing weapons out the window as the team went through the door, Holtzman said.

About 60 to 65 percent of the people who were arrested were involved in gang activity, Holtzman said.

Stanley said working together was a great help to the Town of Ayden.

“I just want to say how much a help it has been with this partnership because, like Chief Holtzman said, we struggle on these things in our small department, a 23-man department. Having them stand behind us and partner with us to help with our problems has just been a huge boon for us,” Stanley said.

Already, it’s been a much quieter summer, he said.

“We have seen a huge decrease in gun violence so far this summer,” Stanley said.

“It’s hard when you have a town with a population of 5,000 and these things are happening right out in the street in broad daylight,” he said. “It’s tough to deal with, and we can’t do it by ourselves.” 

Police began identifying some of the suspects through citizen tips and concerned citizens and by watching who was out at the “hot spots” where drug sales were occurring, said Sgt. Donald Manley, who heads the gang unit at the Greenville Police Department.

Research has shown that gang activity has been moving out of the larger cities into smaller communities because the smaller communities don’t have the same resources to devote to the problem, Manley said.

Summertime, when children are out of school, is when youth sometimes are recruited into gangs, and Operation Hornets’ Nest was a way to send a message to young people that joining a gang is not glamorous and they risk being arrested and being sent to prison, Holtzman said.

Manley said he was surprised at the number of children he saw living in environments with drugs and weapons.

“That was the kind of thing that stuck with us the most,” he said.

The Department of Social Services was advised when police saw that children were living in those households or environments, Manley said.

Operation Hornets’ Nest is still alive and active, and police are hoping that people will offer tips as to the whereabouts of the nine people who are still wanted.

Contact Beth Velliquette at bvelliquette@reflector.com or at 252-329-9566. 

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