ORLANDO, Fla. – Troopers Wednesday morning chased a group of suspected burglars who authorities said smashed their way into a Target store on Florida's west coast from Hernando County to an apartment complex in Pine Hills.
The four men ditched their SUV at the Windsor Cove Apartments off Mercy Drive and fled, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
Law enforcement officials said the burglary suspects are among a small group of criminals ruining the safety and security of the majority of Pine Hills residents.
"They feel they can terrorize the streets, commit crimes where they want, and the message to them is 'No you can't,'" said Captain Carlos Torres with the Orange County Sheriff's Office.
After a violent end to 2016 - five shooting and stabbing incidents in one December weekend, and a 50 percent increase in homicides from 2015 - Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings and Orlando Police Chief John Mina on December 16 announced Operation R.I.S.E., which stands for Restoring Inclusiveness, Safety and Empowerment.
In the three weeks since Operation R.I.S.E. has been in effect in Pine Hills, the sheriff's office and the police department say together they've made almost 100 arrests and confiscated 19 illegal guns.
"We're targeting the people doing the most harm to the community and it's working," Orlando police Capt. Sue Brown said. "We're trying to get guns out of the hands of the convicted felons and the ones who are trying to commit crime."
Brown and Torres each wrote their own version of the Operation R.I.S.E. operational plan. Both captains understood the need to cooperate and collaborate with the Orange County, Orlando city line running through Pine Hills.
"Ultimately what we know is these criminals don't have boundaries," Torres said. "What we're finding out is we're dealing with the same issue. Just different areas of the county."
"The shooting that happened a few weeks ago - our guys heard the gunshots, the victims ran this way, so our guys have this person running at them but turns out it was the other side of the street in the county," Brown said.
Brown and Torres now share information online through the the Pine Hills Joint Operation folder that both agencies can access anytime. Torres said it's effectively a law-enforcement bulletin board for deputies and officers covering Pine Hills.
"We're targeting the people we know are out here committing crimes," Brown said. "We know who they are based on their criminal history."
The captains showed News 6 on Wednesday how they are already getting results on crime with Operation R.I.S.E.
Deputies and officers stopped at a gas station where several cars were parked at the pumps but no one was getting gas.
They visited a convenience store at the corner of Pine Hills Road and North Lane where five people were shot in one night in December.
"We've had several shootings here and as Capt. Torres mentioned earlier it is kind of a through-zone for bad guys to travel from one jurisdiction to another," Brown said.
"We are looking for what is out of place, who is suspicious, who is acting in a manner that (they) shouldn't," Torres said. "We're looking for traffic violations."
Torres and Brown said traffic stops can often yield the discovery of illegal guns
"Last night we made six felony arrests, two misdemeanors, and I know they did get one firearm last night," Brown said.
Police noticed that several school-aged young men were hanging out in front of a convenience store Tuesday when they should have been in school.
Torres said he's seen a disturbing rise in juveniles committing serious crimes. He said some are hired by adults who know the juveniles will be treated as less harshly by the judicial system and the juveniles know that too.
"They'll tell you as soon as you arrest them 'You know I'm gonna get out' and they have this mentality 'I can still continue to commit the crimes and get away with them,'" Torres said.
The captains showed News 6 a trailer marked "Crime Prevention Mobile Substation" parked in a lot on Silver Star Road staffed by deputies for several hours each day.
Torres said people stop by to ask for help but also to give them valuable crime-fighting tips.
"This is not just a law-enforcement problem," Torres said. "This is an everyone problem."