ICJIA researchers held two focus groups with representatives of 19 multi-jurisdictional drug task forces and metropolitan enforcement groups serving 62 counties across Illinois. Participants discussed drug task force goals, priorities, operations, collaborative efforts, funding, and successes.
The main purpose of a drug task force is to reduce drug crime. Strategic priorities depend on the needs of a drug task force’s community and drug trends. Drug trends are identified through investigations, as well as community and federal agency input. Communities may include local police, drug task force policy boards, hospitals, pharmacists, and drug treatment facilities.
Drug task forces are multi-jurisdictional and handle drug cases that often cross city and county borders. Officers work undercover using confidential sources and leads to purchase drugs, gather intelligence, and ultimately make arrests. Officers serve search warrants and sometimes seize assets. In addition, officers conduct drug education workshops to criminal justice professionals and the public. Drug task force officers obtain extensive training before starting work, as well as on the job. Due to their training and hands-on experience, officers are well regarded and often promoted to higher command positions.
Undercover work can be dangerous; however, due in part to training, few officers have been injured or killed. Many officers work overtime, but due to budget constraints, many of those hours are unpaid. The impact they make on drug crime in their communities is rewarding to the officers.
Federal and local funding have been reduced in recent years impacting the number of officers and resources available to fight drug crime. Budget cuts accompany ever-increasing demands, however. Operating costs include salaries and resources for undercover drug buys, vehicles, gas, radios, video recorders, and cell phones. In addition, the drug task forces must be insured against liability.
Drug task forces collaborate with state’s attorneys, parole, federal agents, treatment facilities, and pharmacies. After an arrest is made by a drug task force, the decision is left to the state’s attorney over whether to prosecute a case. Some officers expressed frustration with the amount of evidence required by the court and by juries for a conviction.
Some drug task forces work with parole to check parolees’ residences for drugs and weapons. Drug task forces work with federal agencies, such as the FBI, DEA, ATF, and ICE. Drug task forces provide intelligence to federal agencies and also get assistance from them on cases. Treatment providers, pharmacies, and others in the community provide tips and leads to drug task forces.
While success is often measured by the number of arrests made, these officers did not believe that they are the best measure of drug task force success. Success is measured in different ways by drug task force officers, including the larger impact they make on society by making arrests,
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