The war on drugs in McDonough County continues to gain momentum as law enforcement cracks down on the dealers.
Police credit their success to a unique partnership with local agencies.
"You look at McDonough County and see all the drug arrests and it gives the impression that we have a big problem. Our problem isn't worse than any other community. I think we address it better," Sheriff Rick VanBrooker said.
The Drug Unit
"The sheriff and the police chief have created a combined drug unit and with this unit, we commonly work with all the smaller villages in McDonough County," Lt. Justin Lundgren said.
"We do a great job working together to enforce the drug laws," Macomb Police Chief Curt Barker said.
"We've really focused on the drug dealers and the business they've created just by selling drugs," Lundgren said.
"Marijuana is the most common, but after that, cocaine and heroin is making an appearance here within the last few years," VanBrooker said.
It's not a common practice to include this many agencies on the same case, but it's the reason for their high volume of success.
"Usually with drug dealers, you take a higher risk, where they have weapons, or whatever, to protect their drug trade," Barker said.
Years ago, a drug raid on this type of dealer would have involved fewer officers and less ammunition to back the bust.
"It's hard to carry out an operation, because you need a lot of people to do it correctly. The way it is now where everybody throws in, you're able to get more manpower and that's what's important, especially with the smaller departments. If they have a problem, they have plenty of people to solve it," VanBrooker said.
"A lot of these cases take an extensive amount of time and the raid is the grand finale, where there's a lot of investigative work that goes into it," Lundgren said. But it pays off more often than not.
In 2011, the McDonough County drug unit took on 60 criminal drug investigations, excluding traffic stops resulting in drug arrests.
"We may not win it in the end, but we're definitely going to take a large bite out of it," Lundgren said.
Spending the drug money
You may call it a finder's keepers type deal. When police seize drugs from a home or vehicle, they can take any property associated with that crime and sell it.
McDonough County agencies are using the spoils of the drug trade to fight that very problem.
"Whether it's their cash, or the TVs that they're buying or their cars, or whatever it is to further their drug trade, we're trying to take that away from them, so it's not so profitable for them," Barker said.
Months after the raid, about 65 percent of that drug deal comes back to the agencies involved in the bust.
"It's a thousand dollars here, five hundred dollars there, but eventually it all adds up," Barker said.
It's possible through the Illinois Drug Asset Forfeiture Procedure Act established in 1990. But there's one condition.
"What's unique is the funds that we do seize has to go back for us to enforce the drug laws," Barker said. "We're able to use the drug dealers money to buy the equipment that we need, and we also use the money to purchase drugs for undercover buys and such," Barker said.
A combined force of drug enforcers in McDonough County make it happen.
"It's not just McDonough County and Macomb Police Dept. Bushnell, Colchester PD, Blandinsville, they all have a scratch in the game, so they help us and when they have a problem we help them," VanBrooker said.
The use of this drug money has given a boost to these local agencies in the fight against drugs, equipping them for worst case scenarios.
"A couple years ago, we fielded a strategic response team to help us execute those search warrants or arrest warrants," Barker said. "Vests. Cavalier Helmets, radios, rifles..."
The Macomb Police Department and the McDonough Sheriff's Department also bought three drug dogs with their drug money, at a cost of $6,000 each.
"When you have that kind of money, it gives you options for how you can approach the problem. If we didn't have that seizure money it'd be more difficult to carry out the operations we do right now," VanBrooker said.
This year alone, the Macomb Police Department has spent about $24,000 of their drug money. The McDonough County Sheriff has spent about $22,000.
"If this law was not in place, there'd be no way we could afford all the equipment we've bought or be as proactive in the enforcement of drug as we have," Barker said.
The forfeited funds not only benefit law enforcement agencies behind the drug busts. About 12.5 percent of the money goes to the state's attorney and appellate prosecutor. The Illinois State Police gets the remaining 10 percent of the returned drug money.