“Operation Spero” is one of the largest undercover Austin Police Department operations to date, and KVUE got an exclusive look at how officers are targeting crack cocaine dealers.
In all, 81 people including one juvenile have warrants for charges ranging from selling drugs to engaging in organized crime.
The majority of these dealers are targeting the homeless population around the ARCH, or Austin’s Resource Center for the Homeless.
“Spero” is Latin for “hope.” Sergeant Eric Cleveland with APD’s Street Narcotics Unit said their hope is to stop the dealers from preying on a vulnerable population.
"If we don't do this, it'll go unchecked,” said Cleveland.
Their operation is two-fold: first, undercover officers wearing dirty clothes attempt to buy crack from dealers standing outside the ARCH.
Officers have identified an organizational structure for how drugs are sold.
K2 is sold on the Neches Street side, and crack and heroin are sold on the Seventh Street side of the ARCH, says Cleveland.
"That line of people over there, they're smoking crack or they're waiting for the crack to show up,” Cleveland observed, pointing at a fence on the Seventh Street side of the ARCH.
As an officer made undercover purchases, another team in the Real Time Crime Center at APD’s Headquarters observed all the action through the HALO cameras.
The HALO cameras are so clear, “we can basically zoom in and count the number of crack rocks in somebody's hand,” said Cleveland.
Once they positively identify a dealer after a drug exchange, uniformed officers on the streets confirm the accused dealer’s identity.
The drugs are also tested to confirm they are crack cocaine or heroin.
Operation Spero took nearly two weeks to complete. Then, the unit gathers all their evidence to present to a grand jury for sealed indictments.
This week, APD officers are arresting the 81 dealers charged in Operation Spero.