GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - 'Operation:Cold Treatment' kicked off around 3:00 pm Thursday afternoon. Gulfport police split up in teams, setting up undercover surveillance in cooperation with drug and retail stores along Highway 49.
Undercover officers kept watch in unmarked cars in store parking lots. Inside, an undercover officer posed as a customer. Shortly after police set up at a drug store, they had zeroed in on someone.
"We pulled up, and I think we were here two minutes. And we have a potential right now," says Captain Chris Loposser, Gulfport police.
The drug store had just re-stocked its cold medicine supply. Officers say the man bought one bottle of cold medicine and hydrogen peroxide, two of the precursors used in making meth. By state law, people can only buy or have 15 grams of pseudoephedrine on their person, that's one bottle of cold medicine. When precursors are bought, police look for a number of things before moving in on someone.
"By observing their actions, observing what they're purchasing and doing interviews and traffic stops we're able to determine if there's any criminal liability for them and their actions," Captain Loposser says.
They often look to see if people buy more than one of the precursors on the list to make meth. Police followed a man who bought pseudoephedrine and hydrogen peroxide, two of the precursors used to make meth, to a gas station. But, after stopping and interviewing the man, he was let go.
"Based on what he has in his possession this time, it's not enough to generate a felony arrest. Even though we might not be enough to take someone into custody, if we learn something, we come out ahead," Loposser says.
After the operation wrapped up Friday night, police say, with the exception of one person, everyone had some type of connection to meth or meth cooking. But, sometimes police did not have enough evidence to make an arrest. The operation went from day to night. About three hours later, more stops were made but no arrests. The operation illustrates an issue police constantly run into when it comes to meth.
"Tonight (Thursday night) is a perfect example of them staging purchases and having below required amounts. This is an evolving trade and every time we make leads into or headways into enforcement the bad guys will adjust what they do," Loposser says.
Police say some of those stopped and let go had just the legal amount of pseudoephedrine, so police could not arrest them. But, later Thursday night, things heated up as police arrested seven people. Friday, the last day of the operation, police arrested another seven by 9 p.m. and were still going.
Gulfport police say they will continue carrying out the undercover investigations. They also work closely with other coast agencies as they try to crack down on meth before it gets to the streets.