It was still dark Tuesday morning when a caravan of about 40 vehicles, including the Sheriff’s Mobile Command Post, a SWAT armored vehicle and a vehicle specially equipped for the department’s drones, stood parked, waiting, on American Eagle Avenue.

The line stretched from near the Sperry Avenue end of American Eagle down around Calvinson Parkway to the west of the roundabout, and there were other vehicles already stationed at other locations nearby.

The department’s plane was also in the air, circling the gated Reflections community.

At the command post, several officers gathered around the back of the drone vehicle, watching intently the activity inside the gates on a huge screen.

Many of those resources would not have been available if the city did not contract for police services with the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department, Patterson Police Chief Marc Nuno said at the scene.

Everyone was bundled up against the cold in coats and long sleeves, occasionally dabbing noses.

A man dressed in a t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops walked up to the officers, “acting nervous and trying to see what we were doing, and then texting someone, until he was asked to leave,” Nuno said.

A total of 16 houses were hit, with four teams of at least 10 people each assigned to the operation. In total, about 60 people were involved, Nuno said.

He declined to name the streets, but confirmed that 12 houses were within the Reflections community and the rest were outside it.

It had taken two months of investigation and planning to get to this point.

The stakes for everyone involved were high: Per the city’s Municipal Code, there is a $250 fine per plant for the first offense. A second offense is $500; a third, $1,000.

More than 12,000 plants were collected and destroyed, resulting in potential fines of at least $3 million. The estimated street value was $2.3 to $3 million, Nuno said.

Year to date, the chief said, more than 18,000 plants have been seized.

Sixteen people were arrested during the operation, and $28,000 in cash was seized.

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