Editorials

Prosecutors’ police target drugs, but get cash

Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons said putting his own police on the interstate highways is about seizing heroin. The LaSalle County unit on which he modeled his appears to be more about seizing cash and vehicles that curbing drugs.
Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons said putting his own police on the interstate highways is about seizing heroin. The LaSalle County unit on which he modeled his appears to be more about seizing cash and vehicles that curbing drugs. znizami@bnd.com

Heroin is a scourge on our community and law enforcement efforts to combat it can literally save lives, but should those efforts extend to local prosecutors putting together their own private police forces to go out and fight it?

That sounds like a poor idea on its merits. If you look at where the idea originated and how it operated, it becomes a terrible idea.

Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons hired two investigators to go out on the interstates and run drug interdiction patrols. “This unit was designed to directly attack the problem at the source, and to prevent the drugs from ever hitting the streets,” he said.

The unit is currently in park because the Illinois Supreme Court is about to look at the issue in LaSalle County, where Gibbons said he got the idea. LaSalle County is largely rural with about 112,000 people, but it is crossed by a major east-west corridor to Chicago, Interstate 80. Their drug unit took in more than $1 million.

Part of the problem is how the money was spent. LaSalle County’s prosecutor put $100,000 into training his police force. He also spent $50,000 on donations, including to an adult flag football league and softball tournament.

So in addition to becoming the police chief of his own force, he put himself in a position to be the sugar daddy of local sports and charities. Plus, how do you avoid conflict of interest when you are prosecuting a case brought to you by your own employee? The objective case review and standards of evidence could easily soften when looking at your own officers’ work, unless you never intended to prosecute any of these cases in the first place.

The noble intention to take drugs off the streets would be better served by allowing the professionals to do their jobs. The Drug Enforcement Administration, Illinois State Police and local cops are better able to follow down leads that could potentially hurt the business of drugs. Their people were trained, have years of experience and intelligence networks — not weekend conferences on how to seize cash and cars.

Illinois Supreme Court mandate or not, Gibbons should give up his highway patrol and focus his energies on prosecuting the cases brought to him.

  Comments