A variety of officers from the St. Landry Parish Sheriff's Office, Opelousas Police Department and Eunice Police Department have gathered in the sheriff's narcotics office. Though not direct colleagues, they nevertheless exchange the friendly fist-bumps and embraces one would expect from friends who see each other maybe once a month. The time and place is casual enough for them.
In walks Cpt. Derrick Miles, a six-year sheriff's office veteran and former Los Angeles police officer. Miles still dresses and carries himself like a member of the military. His rock-hard chest stretches a shirt that looks brand new.
This morning, the no-nonsense officer is carrying a coffee pot and a box of doughnuts fresh from Mikey's Donut King.
"Cops love their doughnuts," Miles said, mocking the stereotype. "That's where I was just now. Waiting for the doughnuts to be ready."
Miles debriefed the eight other officers on the task at hand. Their early Friday morning assignment was Operation Gift Wrap. The targets were 16 people with arrest warrants for possession of or possession with intent to distribute drugs, specifically marijuana, cocaine and prescription pills. The operation would put the officers outside on the rare Louisiana morning during which they could see their breath in the air.
"Let's roll," Miles said.
BFC Opelousas BFC
A caravan of Chevrolet Tahoes, Ford Crown Victorias, Dodge Chargers and a lone Chevy Silverado stampeded to 215 Pine Loop for the first catch of the night. It sped through the city's nearly empty streets, the occasional vehicle flipping on its police lights and blocking an intersection until its brethren sped safely by. The officers arrived, unloaded from their vehicles and began knocking for their suspect. The door opened.
Quickly, the officers piled back into their vehicles and headed for 236 Elementary Lane, location B for their suspect. Hoping to get there before the first location's occupant potentially sounded the alarm via a phone call, the officers once again charged, this time to a series of trailers along a gravel road.
Another dead end.
"That's the thing about drug dealers," Miles said. "You never know where they are. As we do surveillance on them, they're doing surveillance on us."
"We'll get them one way or another," said an undercover officer, not deterred or frustrated.
And for the next couple of turns, they scored. And they did so efficiently and without trouble, to their unspoken relief.
"Where there's drugs, there's violence," Miles said. "Our deputies have to be extra careful and alert when apprehending these suspects."
"It must be cozy out there," Miles joked.
Their search for the occupant of 1114 Overton concluded when he returned from a bicycle trip to a nearby Race Trac for coffee. He did not get to enjoy that coffee, as he was immediately apprehended, searched and cuffed into the transportation van.
Not, however, before three children, shoeless and in shorts, exited the man's home to be shuffled off to a neighbor's to be watched in the meantime.
"It's sad to see," Miles said. "We do this for the kids. We get these criminals off the streets for the kids."
The operation remained uneventful during its brief visit to Lawtell, and that was just the way Miles liked it. The Los Angeles-native with family ties to the area recalled the '90s, when the parish faced a more significant drug and violence problem.
"St. Landry Parish is getting a whole lot better," he said. "It used to be real bad, but we're cracking down a lot now."
Miles talked about the various gangs he once dealt with as a member of the LAPD. He even briefly mentioned his time with the Army Rangers.
"I went to Iraq twice and Afghanistan once," he said. "I'm done."
Once in Lawtell, Miles first parked close to the nearby Holy Family Catholic Church while the other cars converged on the trailer lot housing the latest suspect. The prisoner van, piloted by the undercover officer, joined him.