Operation 'Perfect Storm' aims to cut down on violence in Lake Worth

30-day undercover operation ran from May to June

LAKE WORTH, Fla. - There's been a crackdown on gangs in Lake Worth.

The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office says those gangs are connected to the recent increase in shootings and violent crimes.

But the department just wrapped up a huge sweep that might help bring the violence to an end, called "Operation Perfect Storm."

The 30-day undercover operation ran from May to June, targeting the city's worst crime areas such as South G Street, Washington Avenue, 15th Avenue South,  9th Avenue South and the Dixie Highway corridor.

Neighbors hope it's enough to help them feel safe in their own homes.

I took a walk with city commissioner Omari Hardy through the streets of Lake Worth to learn more.

"This is one of the oldest parts of the city, it's also one of the poorest," he said, walking through Washington Street's Whispering Palms neighborhood. "There are people that want to take advantage of the situation, take advantage of people who are addicted to drugs."

Hardy says it's not so much the gangs that are the root of the problem. It's the drugs.

"We have a heroin problem that attracts gangs so that's what we're dealing with," he said. "We'll never be able to arrest our way out of this problem, or law enforce our way out. We really got to get relief from the state or federal government. We understand this isn't just a statewide issue, the opioid epidemic is nationwide and we're struggling with ways to figure out what we can try to do."

Lake Worth is only seven square miles, which Hardy said can amplify the issues.

"So the sober home crisis for us, has a concentrated effect," he said. "We're struggling just like every city in Palm Beach County."

PBSO provided WPTV with the results of Operation Perfect Storm:

  • Total Arrests: 186
  • Gang Members Arrested: 12  
  • FIR’s (Field Interview Reports)    140  
  • Gang FIR’s  17
  • Search Warrants   4  
  • DNA Warrants   3  
  • Traffic Citations: 140 
  • Written Warnings: 54  
  • Weapons Seized: 4  (two were stolen)
  • Vehicles Seized: 4 
  • Currency: $11,796.00 
  • Drugs Seized: Marijuana: 1054.3 grams  Cocaine: 37.1 grams, Crack Cocaine: 49.6 grams  Heroin: 54.5 grams Pills: Dilaudid, Oxycodone, Xanax, Anti-Seizure (Prescription), Alprazolam
  • Felony Vehicle Fleeing Events: 26 
  • Pending Deportation (Illegal Alien with Extensive Criminal History): 1

"Many, many drugs were confiscated as well as illegal weapons and that's something that really drags down the community as well," said Hardy. "The operation was an incredible success and I think it vindicated our decision to get PBSO in here. We used to have our own police department, but PBSO has brought a lot of resources to our problems."

We walked past the home of neighbor Alberta Stewart fears for her elderly mother.

"My mom is 80-years-old. I don't need this around my mom," she said.

She says the neighborhood used to be safe many years ago.

"Now it's like chaos," she said. "You can't leave your door open without electronics getting stolen."

Stewart said she's worried about several shootings this year -- including the murder of a mother in suburban Lake Worth.

"When people are on drugs, they got to find the money to get drugs," said Stewart.

Joyce Liddell works around the corner at above the sea soup kitchen.

"All my life, born and raised, this street is named after my grandfather," said Liddell.

She hopes the crackdowns will save her grandkids.

"I have grandchildren coming up. I have 10 great grandchildren coming up in this area so I thank God for it," said Liddell.

Commissioner Hardy told me Operation Perfect Storm shouldn't stop here.

"It's something that they live with, and something they feel they're resigned to. Just because they live in Lake Worth, this is something that they have to live with," he said. "And I think it's a good thing that [PBSO] is sending that message that, no -- we're going to take care of these issues." 

Some more good news here, Commissioner Hardy told me the city wants to duplicate this operation in other areas of the city.

"It think it's always a good time to get people off the street who want to take advantage of your community," he said. "Sometimes we see acts of violence that occur within short periods of time and the community has a heightened awareness of it."

Captain Todd Baer, PBSO commander of District 14 in Lake Worth, will present the full results of the operation to the city commissioners at their next meeting.

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