Members of the Highlands County, Florida Special Operations Unit, along with federal drug investigators, searched a Sebring residence.

They found methamphetamine, marijuana, oxycodone and other prescription drugs.

For more than a year, the Special Operations Unit had much fewer deputies than usual assigned to work cases there, but with the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office filling some openings, more deputies have been assigned to the unit in the last few months.

Statistics provided by the sheriff’s office seem to indicate an increase in drug arrests this year.

Capt. Randy LaBelle, who commands the special operations unit and also oversees criminal investigations, said he expects that at the end of the year the numbers will be up.

LaBelle declined to discuss the number of deputies assigned to the unit.

“We’re better than we were, but we’re not up to where we should be,” LaBelle said.

Generally, the patrol division is the highest priority, LaBelle said. If that division is then short-staffed, fewer deputies are available to be assigned to the Special Operations Unit.

LaBelle said the shortage of deputies for the Special Operations Unit in the past limited the ability to do major operations.

“I’m not going to put detective’s lives in danger just because of some dope,” LaBelle said.

As the number of deputies assigned to the unit has increased, he said, they’ve done undercover buys, traffic stops in areas of high drug activity and executed search warrants.

LaBelle said they focus on areas where the drug activity is the highest.


Read More: Highlands Today

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