Criminals use public parking lots to sell guns, drugs

While you may think criminals sell drugs and guns out of their home or in hidden in the woods, Hillsborough County Deputies say many of the criminals are conducting their operations in busy, public places.

"There's deals happening right now as we talk Clifton. In the parking lot of convenience stores, of shopping centers." Sgt. Chris Rule of HCSO said.

Sgt. Rule is the supervisor of an undercover unit of eight detectives. They gain the trust of criminals to buy narcotics and firearms. Many of the undercover buys are made in public places.

"We found out about their techniques by investigating individuals who are selling firearms. We weren't setting up deals in parking lots." Sgt. Rule said.

In the past few months, those deals have become more and more dangerous. Three undercover deputies have been robbed while trying to buy guns. One incident was in the parking lot of a convenience store. The other incident was across the street from the Hard Rock Casino.

RELATED: HCSO: Undercover gun buy turns into deputy-involved shooting that injured two outside of Home Depot

"Those guys had their money taken and a gun put in their face." Rule said.

Rule has also had a gun put in his face. While undercover in 2011, a suspect pointed a shotgun at him. 

"I still get chills thinking about it." He said. "It's very dangerous."

Few details are available for the latest incident that happened in the parking lot of the Home Depot in Brandon. Undercover deputies shot two suspects last week. Deputies say one of the suspects had sold them guns and drugs before. Two of those guns were reported stolen. One of the stolen guns was taken from a car, the other was taken during a home burglary.

In fact, many of the guns they buy were reported stolen. Rule's detectives recovered 165 guns in 2017. 14 percent of those guns were reported stolen. In 2017, a total of 833 guns were reported stolen in Hillsborough County, 315 of them were taken from vehicles. 

Rule says his unit will dictate where an undercover operation will take place and they will pass up a buy if it's too unsafe. However, he says, the risks of passing it up are also high.

"Those narcotics or firearms will go to someone else's hands and who knows what will happen at that point," he said.

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