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Police team up to fight heroin in Southland

A representative from Drug Enforcement Agency speaks about drug threassessment trends Chicago regiduring HeroSummit held Moraine Valley Community College Palos

A representative from the Drug Enforcement Agency speaks about drug threat assessment and trends in the Chicago region during the Heroin Summit held at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills Tuesday, October 23, 2012. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 25, 2012 11:47AM



Gone are the days when kids would stand outside a liquor store hoping a friendly stranger would buy them a six-pack of beer.

Instead, they’ll pool their money and send someone to where heroin is sold — usually Chicago’s West Side, “the mecca of heroin in the Chicago area.”

That’s all according to Crete Police Chief James Paoletti, who on Tuesday joined South Chicago Heights Police Chief William Joyce and more than 220 other law enforcement officials from 86 agencies for a forum at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills on the growing epidemic of heroin use.

Such gatherings allow police to consider themselves “one giant organization with one goal in mind, having a much more cohesive attack and, hopefully, better results” in battling the heroin problem, Paoletti said.

Police declined to make their strategies public, but Lemont Police Chief Kevin Shaughnessy was encouraged by what he heard.

“Lemont is one town of many that has had issues with heroin,” he said.

The attendees heard from Chicago police, local state’s attorney’s offices, the FBI, Illinois State Police and the Drug Enforcement Administration about the spread of heroin usage and how agencies can work better together to combat it.

“The majority of our drug arrests are with traffic stops on Route 1 and Sauk Trail,” said Joyce, who also heads the South Suburban Association of Chiefs of Police. “When they talk about these ‘drug highways,’ right now they’re looking at Interstate 57 to U.S. 30 into Indiana.”

Joyce said no Southland community is immune from the uptick in heroin use.

“It’s economics. There’s a lot of money in drugs, and gangs use that money,” Joyce said.

Peripheral crime also rises, he said.

“When drug use goes up, so do burglaries. People break into cars and houses and fence goods (that they steal) to pay for their habits,” he said.

Paoletti agreed the problem has spread far and wide.

“There’s a consistent exposure. Not only in Crete. Everywhere,” he said. “Heroin is a very cheap, very lucrative and very powerful drug.

“I remember when it was injected and it was expensive. Now it’s inexpensive and they can snort it to get a significant high.”

That makes it harder to identify a heroin user, he said, because he or she won’t have “track marks” from injecting heroin into their arms, he said.

“It’s terrible our young people have to be exposed to that,” Paoletti said.

Heroin users once were considered junkies in the inner city, he said, but that has changed. With hits of heroin selling for as little as $10, it’s easy to get hooked, he said.

“Now kids are using it and it’s highly addictive. I can’t say the first time you use it you’ll be addicted, but it doesn’t take too many attempts to become hooked on heroin,” Shaughnessy said.

“In most suburban areas, the No. 1 crime is burglary to a motor vehicle,” he said. “An individual can (burglarize) 50 to 60 cars a night to get what he needs to fence, then to pay for the drug.”

The age group with the fastest-rising number of users is 18- to 23-year-olds, he said.

“The maturity level is not there. They don’t understand this choice may be deadly,” Shaughnessy said. “You can smoke pot, you can snort cocaine, you can us other illegal drugs — which I certainly don’t condone — but the effects of those are nowhere near the effects of heroin.”

Tinley Park Police Cmdr. Pat McCain said the village has seen some heroin use — “I’d be lying if I said none” — and hopes Tuesday’s meeting leads to better communication between police departments.

Moraine Valley Community College Police Chief Patrick O’Connor said “today’s kids don’t have the fear of heroin that we did.

“I don’t have an outstanding problem here (on campus),” he said, “but I don’t know what takes place at their homes.”



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