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Area drug sweep nets 19 arrests

"A joint team of investigators from the Oak Harbor Police Department and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service say they took crack, powder cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana off the street of Oak Harbor in raids that hit nine homes and landed 19 people in jail.The Special Response Team led by Oak Harbor Police Sgt. Tim Sterkel served nine search warrants at local houses, apartments and a hotel early Saturday morning.Sterkel said the officers arrested 19 local adults - four women and 15 men - on suspicion of a variety of drug related crimes. They were all booked into the city jail. All but four have been released.According to Sterkel, the various suspects were not part of an organized drug ring, though they all apparently knew each other. He said the nine different cases will be handled individually.During the operation, Sterkel said investigators found evidence of crack manufacturing. They seized hundreds of dollars worth of marijuana, crack and powder cocaine, but he said the amounts haven't been weighed and measured yet. They also seized $10,000 in cash, two handguns and six cars.The suspects are facing a variety of drug-related charges, including various degrees of possession, sale and manufacturing of a controlled substance. Sterkel, the department's new drug enforcement officer, is working on a narcotics investigation project funded by the federal COPS program. He said he and two undercover NCIS agent have been working since the beginning of the year on the cases that resulted in the weekend searches.The investigation included long hours of surveillance, he said, and many drug buys. He said he also got a lot of help from landlords and residents who phoned in the tips to the department's new tip line, 679-8477.The nine search warrants were served with help from the city police SWAT team, U.S. Customs, the Island County Sheriff's Office and Navy security's drug K-9 team.Police Chief Tony Barge said that one of the men arrested had been seen selling drugs near local schools.According to Sterkel, the biggest surprise for investigators was the amount of cocaine and crack that they discovered in the operation. He said police have long been aware that methamphetamine and marijuana are popular locally, but haven't made a lot of cocaine-related arrests previously."

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