Riding shotgun during Wednesday’s raid

Carrying a Bushmaster patrol rifle, Saranac Lake Police Patrolman Casey Reardon climbs into the driver’s seat of an unmarked car parked outside the village police station.

He sets the gun down along the center console, between our seats.

“Ready?” he asks me.

“As ready as I can be,” I respond.

Perhaps noticing me eyeballing the rifle with a look of trepidation, Reardon explains why he brought it along.

“These guys were involved in an armed confrontation the other night, with two shotguns and a couple of baseball bats,” he says. “I’ll just have you with me. We’re going to try to stay on the back side of the house for right now.”

“I’ll keep my distance,” I tell him with a little chuckle that belies my nerves. In my mind, I’m thinking, ‘What did I sign up for?’

“Don’t worry. I’ll throw you on the ground if it gets bad,” Reardon quips.

It’s 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, and Reardon is leading Team 1 – five law-enforcement officers representing multiple agencies – in a roundup of suspected drug dealers around the village. The sweep is the culmination of six months of police work. A total of 18 people are being sought, most on felony warrants for criminal sale of prescription drugs or cocaine.

The unmarked sedan driven by Reardon leads a convoy of three vehicles from the police station to an apartment house on Franklin Avenue.

“Right now we’re going to a house where we received information last night that two of our potential targets are staying at,” Reardon tells me. “We’ll check there first, and if that doesn’t pan out, we’ll just move on based on other information we develop.”

We park along the street, and Reardon gets out. Carrying the rifle, he moves quickly but quietly up the driveway with the four other members of his team: Saranac Lake police Sgt. Jimmy Law, Patrolman Chris Dionne and two other men who didn’t want to be identified, one from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the other from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Reardon quickly peels off into the bushes to take up a position across the driveway from the house. The two federal officers walk across the lawn and disappear behind the other side of the building. Law and Dionne walk around to an apartment at the back of the house and knock on the door.

As the officers talk to a woman on the back porch, two men repeatedly poke their heads out from behind the curtain of a small window on the second floor of the house. A dog barks at me while I watch from the street and take pictures.

Ten minutes later, Reardon and the rest of his team walk back down the driveway.

“The homeowners were there, but the people we were looking for weren’t,” Reardon says. “We didn’t find anything, so we’re going to keep checking locations we think they might be at.”

As Reardon leads Team 1 to its next stop, he talks about the extent of the drug problem in the community.

“It’s an epidemic,” he said. “Anybody that realizes the potential for selling their scripts (prescriptions) or narcotics in Saranac Lake – a lot of people have taken advantage of it. Some of these pills sell for 40 to 50 dollars apiece easily, and as high as 100, and that’s just for one.

“It’s an everyday issue that we deal with, and it’s the underlying problem for most other issues we deal with. Having a healthy narcotics (enforcement) program like we have is, I think, one of the best ways to keep the streets clean and stay ahead of crime in general.”

The car pulls up to a house on Shepard Avenue. Reardon says this is where the “armed confrontation” took place about a week-and-a-half-ago. He says it was drug-related. No surprise there.

“One guy and some of his friends from the house we were just at came here with a couple shotguns looking to speak to the guy that we’re looking for right now,” Reardon said. “And when he kicked the door in, the guy that we’re looking for laid him out with a baseball bat.”

Neither of the two suspects police are looking for – later identified as Alissa R. Tucker and Nicholas B. Kolbasook, both 19 years old – are there now, although Law gets a tip that leads the team to its next stop, an apartment house at 155 Broadway where the two have been know to hang out. On the way there, Reardon checks in with village police Chief Bruce Nason and learns that seven of the 18 suspects are in custody. It’s about 8:15 a.m.

After talking with tenants at 155 Broadway, Law emerges with a suspect in handcuffs. He’s bare chested with a pair of red shorts and sneakers with no socks, like he was just roused from bed. It turns out police had a warrant for this suspect on an unrelated charge.

As I watch from across the street, a neighbor named Dave, who declined to give his last name, tells me this apartment house is a hotbed of local drug dealing.

“There’s a lot of traffic in and out: Five, 10, 15 minute stops, then they’re gone,” Dave says. “They get more traffic in there than McDonald’s right now. It’s just ridiculous.”

Dave said he’s glad to see the cops across the street.

“They should go after the ones dealing drugs,” he said. “They sell to anybody, kids. One of the biggest things right now in town is prescription drugs and heroin, and it’s a good place to start right across the street here. Things have gotten a lot worse in the past year or so.”

Another half dozen law-enforcement personnel show up at the apartment house by 8:35 a.m. Half of them surround the building while the others walk up an outside stairwell to the second floor and pound on the door to an apartment. No one answers.

Tucker and Kolbasook are still nowhere to be found at this point. Reardon tells me he thinks they may have been tipped off to the fact that police were looking for them by someone who was at the Franklin Avenue location police checked first.

Police eventually execute a search warrant for the Broadway apartment house. It turns up six ounces of heroin, one of the largest seizures of the drug police have made here in years, along with crack cocaine and other drugs. That leads to the arrest of three other people who weren’t on the original list for this sweep.

The day ends with 18 suspects being apprehended locally and four more, including Tucker and Kolbasook, still being sought.

On the way back to the police station, I ask Reardon whether he thinks the arrests police made today will curtail the local drug trade. In the short term, yes, he responds.

“After today there will be somebody stepping up in their shoes,” Reardon says. “It’s a revolving door. It’s going to be the same problem. We’ll have the same episode playing out four, five, six months from now with another roundup. Until something’s done about the bigger problems, we’re always going to have this kind of situation.”