By KEVIN NEVERS
Here’s what happens when a Porter County heroin addict goes to the projects
on Chicago’s South Side to score.
A spotter with binoculars positioned on the roof of the high-rise gets a
read on the addict’s Porter County license plate.
He radios word to the dealer.
The dealer sends a greeter to the street and before the addict has even
parked his car the greeter is waiting for him at the curb.
From there the greeter gives the addict an escort up to the candy store,
takes him to the front of the line—ahead of the locals—expedites the buy,
then gives the addict an escort back to his car.
It’s all very businesslike.
Who would have thought it? Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Brian Gensel marveled
April 13 at Willowcreek Middle School (WMS) in Portage. A strung-out kid
from the suburbs wanders into a crime-infested neighborhood, and rather than
being robbed or worse he’s treated like a guest at the Carlton Ritz. “It’s
the safest place in the world to buy drugs,” Gensel said.
Safer at any rate than the McDonald’s on the Skyway, Gensel added: a fix
stop of choice among Porter County addicts who just can’t wait to get home
Gensel was just one of a panel of heavy-hitters assembled by WMS Parents in
Action—including U.S. Attorney Joe Van Bokkelen, Drug Enforcement
Administration Agent Vince Balbo, and Sheriff Dave Reynolds—to speak at what
proved to be by far the best organized and most informative anti-drug forum
in the county in some time.
And the students and parents who filled an entire bleacher section in the
WMS gymnasium heard a most disconcerting message. As Reynolds, the event’s
host, told them, “There’s no easy solution.”
Rather, Reynolds said, there are only approaches: eradication and
interdiction, to disrupt the supply chain; punishment, to get the dealers
off the streets; treatment and rehabilitation—“the most overlooked and
underfunded”—to give addicts a second chance; and intervention, to get to
the at-risk kids before they become addicts. “A combination of these
approaches is probably the answer,” Reynolds ventured, “and no one approach
should be overlooked.”
Balbo—who will soon be leaving for Afghanistan, the world’s leading producer
of opium, to help establish a drug enforcement agency in that country, and
who has as good a sense as anyone of the supply chain which leads from the
poppy fields overseas to a heroin addict’s basement—urged parents to look at
the big picture. There once was a time, Balbo noted, when—as a “frontier
county”—Porter County may have been relatively insulated from the urban drug
culture, and indeed its newest residents, who have swelled this county’s
population in recent years amid the mushrooming of pretty green
subdivisions, may even think that they’ve left that drug culture behind
They need to think again, Balbo said. Drugs have followed them to the
subdivisions. Drugs have come with them to the subdivisions. Look to your
neighbors and to your neighbors’ kids. “People don’t stop selling drugs when
they move to Porter County. They keep it up and move their businesses here.
And people don’t stop using drugs when they move here.”
More: a quick fix is only a car or train or bus ride away, Balbo said, and
the same infrastructure which makes it easy for their parents to commute to
work in Chicago makes it just as easy for the addicts to commute to their
connections there. Porter County isn’t isolated. It’s wired, linked, and
In short, Balbo described the drug problem as “a big circle, a big spiral,”
which crosses jurisdictional lines, seeps from one neighborhood into
another, and like any other contagion has its vectors of transmission and
patterns of infection.
Balbo made one other observation: drug enforcement is beginning to reflect
drug demographics. In the old days the feds chased the multinational cartels
and their smuggling and distribution operations in the States and were happy
enough to leave the locals to tend their gardens, Balbo said. Now the
recognition is growing that the feds need the locals and the on-the-ground
intelligence which the locals can provide.
Or as Van Bokkelen put it, “The answer at the end of the day is
partnerships.” When the Porter County Drug Task Force makes a bust, the
first question put to the dealer is Where do you get your drugs? “We want to
track down where the drugs came from and shut down the supply,” Van Bokkelen
said. “But we need a good partnership.”
Capt. Terry Swickard of the Portage Police Department expanded on that
notion: partnerships are needed not only among law enforcement agencies but
between those agencies and the community itself. “A lot of crimes and cases
are solved from tips,” Swickard said. “We appreciate and we take all tips
In fact, Swickard emphasized, it’s all about information. Law enforcement
can’t do its job without it, and neither can parents. Kids don’t experiment
with drugs in a vacuum. They make new friends and meet the acquaintances of
friends and easily become the targets of opportunity for dealers. Parents
need to track their children’s movements just as much as law enforcement
needs to track the dealers’ movements. “It is a parent’s responsibility to
know where your kids are going and with who,” Swickard said. “You’ve got to
set guidelines. You’ve got to be the bad guy.”