Chesterton Tribune

County Drug Task Force busy in 2003, so were the users

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The number of cases and arrests made by the Porter County Drug Task Force rose dramatically in 2003, and Task Force Coordinator Bob Taylor is as hopeful that his unit’s success will continue in 2004 as he is fearful—the stats tell the story—that the county’s drug problem is only growing worse.

Last year the Task Force made cases or arrests against 172 people, compared to 134 in 2002, a spike of more than 28 percent.

Valparaiso saw the greatest increase. In 2002 10 percent of all of the Task Force’s cases were made in that city; last year, 23 percent were.

Duneland, on the other hand—Chesterton, Porter, and Burns Harbor—accounted for 7 percent of the Task Force’s cases in 2002 but 11 percent last year.

The Task Force’s operations likewise escalated in Portage, where it made 35 percent of its cases in 2002 but a whopping 45 percent last year, nearly half of all of its cases in 2003.

The Task Force’s operations did decline in two jurisdictions: in unincorporated Porter County, where the fraction of its total cases dropped from 40 percent in 2002 to 19 percent in 2003; and in jurisdictions outside the county—chiefly Chicago, Taylor said—where it fell from 8 percent to 3 percent.

Taylor attributed the 28 percent increase in the Task Force’s cases to a number of factors, not the least of them—“most sadly”—a swelling appetite among the county’s youth for controlled substances, especially cocaine and crack cocaine.

But the demand for drugs does not by itself account for the Task Force’s burgeoning caseload, Taylor said. Its operations were significantly enhanced last year by its purchase of a dedicated drug detection dog—Benny—who Taylor said his agents use on a daily basis. “Benny’s a good tool to have because it means we don’t have to wait for another department with a K-9 unit on duty.”

Taylor also cited increased cooperation between the Task Force and out-of-county law enforcement agencies as well as more rigorous training for the Task Force’s agents. Probably the most important development last year, however, was a rise in the number of anonymous complaints leading to operations. Taylor said that he receives anywhere from five to eight of them every day, “darn near every one of” which the Task Force acts on.

Taylor noted that he is wary of releasing a press statement every time the Task Force makes an arrest. For one thing, he said, “people get tired of reading about it.” For another, the Task Force would just as soon maintain a low profile as it pursues its undercover operations. “My theory is that we can sneak up on the users and sellers.” On those occasions when Taylor does release a statement, though, he typically receives a stack of new tips. “I’ve got information coming out of my fanny.”

Although the tips are coming from everywhere in the county, Taylor added, Dunelanders in particular have been dropping a lot of dimes. “We’re getting a ton of complaints out of the Chesterton area because of the heroin problem up there.”

Chicago and Points West

Meanwhile, the inter-jurisdictional nature of the drug problem—in which controlled substances are often purchased in one jurisdiction, transported to another for distribution, and used in still another—has prompted authorities in Chicago, the major drug market in the region, to look beyond their borders to the jurisdictions in Indiana where Hoosier users are throwing their business to the Chicago traffickers. Thus the Narcotics Prosecutions Bureau of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office has begun to keep the chiefs of local police departments apprised of drug-related arrests made in Chicago of residents of their communities.

The standard letter, at least eight of which the Narcotics Prosecutions Bureau has sent to local chiefs over the last 12 months: “The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office has become increasingly aware of the epidemic of suburban residents who travel into Chicago’s open air drug market to purchase drugs. This poses a danger to innocent drivers on the road, as well as other members of the community. In an effort to assist you in policing your community, we have attached an arrest report of a resident of your community recently arrested on a drug related offense in Chicago.”

Of those eight arrests, the most recent, on Dec. 30, was of a Chesterton resident, Todd L. Downs, 40, of 1979 David Drive, who was charged with possession of suspected marijuana and suspected cocaine.

Taylor is cautious about drawing any conclusions about the slight dip in out-of-county cases made last year by the Task Force, except for one: the Task Force has limited manpower and time and in 2003 it opted to concentrate its efforts on drug activity inside the county. “We had more time constraints because of what’s going on here,” he said.

Generally speaking, few county residents are traveling to Chicago to buy controlled substances on spec, Taylor said, and the drugs which are transported into the county are usually bought for immediate use, not resale. There are a few runners with whom the Task Force is acquainted, however—seven or eight of them in Duneland, he observed—who take orders, collect money, hitch a ride or grab a train to Chicago, then return to divvy their purchase among their fellow users.

And Taylor did say that the crack cocaine market has filtered east from Gary and is now booming—along with an accompanying surge in prostitution—in the motels along U.S. Highway 20 in Portage. In the past, he observed, some of the motel proprietors were less than cooperative in their dealings with the Task Force. No more, Taylor said. “They’re helping us control it.”

As intense as the Task Force’s operations were in 2003—and as intense as Taylor expects them to be in 2004—its agents continue to swim against the tide. “We’re putting as much time into it as we can,” he said. “But we’re not even touching the problem.”

Taylor encourages those with information on drug activity in their communities to contact him at 465-3629.


Posted 1/15/2004