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posted: 2/5/2013 8:28 AM

Editorial: A welcome experiment in fight against drugs

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Can a secret warehouse-sized office somewhere in the Chicago area help reduce the supply of drugs on suburban streets? Let's hope so.

The office is the three-story Chicago Strike Force building, operating under the control of the federal Justice Department but, according to an Associated Press story this weekend, coordinating the efforts of authorities from diverse crime-fighting agencies like the federal Drug Enforcement Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation as well as police and prosecutors from the city and suburbs.

Its goal is to combine the efforts of sometimes-competing, often independent agencies and eliminate the conflicts and confusion that can occur when autonomous investigations overlap without agents knowing about each other's work. By better combining and coordinating resources, the investigators hope to choke off drug deals at the source point between the cartels and the street-level suppliers.

It's an intriguing approach, and although it's being touted as the "first of its kind," its fundamental strategy has a record of success in such suburban inter-agency crime-fighting teams as the suburbs' Major Case Assistance Team, the Metropolitan Enforcement Group. the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force and similar agencies that draw strength through cooperation and shared resources among numerous departments. The strike force, though, aims to take these concepts, which often focus on individual cases or specifically focused investigations, and build them into a broader, ongoing battle plan in the war against drugs.

"You can't talk to your counterparts in once-a-week meetings," Jack Riley, head of Chicago's DEA office, told the AP. "You have to talk as things are happening. When we get information here, it's not put in a pile and forgotten. It's acted on, now."

For more than a decade, the Daily Herald has taken a special interest in the problem of drugs in the suburbs. Our original "Hidden Scourge" series in 2001 showed the degree to which addictive drugs like cocaine, ecstasy and heroin have infiltrated suburban culture, destroying families and ruining lives. When we revisited the subject in detail last year, it was again both eye opening and disappointing to contemplate the havoc these substances continue to wreak, often just beneath the surface of appearances.

There is no solution, in our view, like the kind of education and awareness that will prevent individuals from embarking on dangerous experiments with these drugs in the first place. But a comprehensive anti-drug strategy certainly has to include effective interdiction to reduce the availability of drugs to experiment with.

The recent arrests of three Schaumburg police officers on drug trafficking charges has again brought into focus how common and lucrative the drug trade can be in the suburbs. If the Chicago Strike Force can make it less common and less lucrative, that's an advance we'll certainly cheer.

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