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DRUG SWEEP LEADS TO 11 ARRESTS IN 3 HOUSES

Nearly 100 police officers in riot gear hit the streets Friday night, targeting three drug houses within a block of each other on Ninth Street between Niagara Street and Ferry Avenue.

Eleven arrests were made during the raids, known as Operation Spring Cleaning, including some of those who allegedly ran the drug houses and others who happened to be there. Names of suspects were unavailable late Friday.

SWAT teams from New York State Police, Niagara County Sheriff's Department, Niagara County Drug Task Force and Niagara Falls Police gathered for a briefing at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.

Lt. Salvatore Pino, who organized the drug sweep, said the officers avoided using city police headquarters as base of command because sometimes drug operatives are casing it for increased police activity.

Entry teams, each trained in hostage taking and drug raids, targeted specific houses and persons.

Police acted quickly and without incident.

"These aren't really houses, but distribution centers," he said. "One apartment is completely empty. The guy sits in a lawn chair and watches a portable television. Somebody knocks on the door, he sells them crack and then goes back to his lawn chair."

Pino said undercover agents have made buys and know what's there, but avoided making scattered arrests.

"We're doing it like this, because if we hit one place, then all those other places on the street will move," he said. "We thought this was the best way to do it. We've also received numerous, numerous calls of shots fired, gang fights, average citizens being accosted on the street -- all because these houses are so congregated within one block of Ninth Street."

Residents, some peeking from windows, others slowly coming onto their porches, said the street has become dangerous. They talked on the condition of anonymity, saying they feared for their lives.

"Don't use my name," said a 62-year-old woman, "or they'll come out and kill us. It's crazy, the shooting all the time. We don't want to have to move. I've been here 30 years."

Her friend, a 60-year-old grandmother, agreed. "It's dangerous," she said. I can't walk to the corner store. We want our street back."

e-mail: nfischer@buffnews.com

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