DuPage County sheriff hopefuls debate heroin tactics
DuPage Coroner Richard Jorgensen has confirmed 25 heroin-related deaths so far this year in the county.
While the number indicates a downward trend from the 46 deaths in 2013 and 38 in 2012, both DuPage County Sheriff John Zaruba and his recently turned Democratic challenger, Mike Quiroz, say the epidemic is far from over.
In a recent Daily Herald endorsement interview ahead of the Nov. 4 election, Quiroz, a retired 24-year sheriff's deputy who worked under Zaruba, said the sheriff is doing "very little to nothing" to fix the problem that is "absolutely out of control."
He also criticized Zaruba for not publicly going after the drug dealers.
"My programs are going to eliminate the future of exposure to the children of DuPage County, so we can minimize the amount of heroin users," Quiroz said. "My programs will be to spend most of my money and most of my time and manpower to go after the dealers and treat the users."
Zaruba, a 17-year incumbent, defended his department, saying DuPage is considered a leader in the fight against heroin.
He said he has partnered with local police departments to create educational programs along with a new counseling program he has implemented for inmates and their families. And, he said, those programs are working.
"It's not arrests. We can't arrest our way out of this problem," he said. "We've lowered the rate of deaths this year over last year. Hopefully that's not an anomaly. We're seeing parents getting involved and talking to their kids. That part is working."
Quiroz said the sheriff's department is limited by not having a partnership with the Illinois State Police, which he said prohibits the sheriff from leaving the county's jurisdiction to go after dealers in Chicago.
"The county is forward-looking in responding to the heroin overdoses that are occurring, and I would continue those practices. But the arrests for dealers are not being made," Quiroz said. "The sheriff has made two or three arrests in the last eight weeks. We need to be attacking the heroin dealers where they are."
Zaruba said his department, which consists of 412 sworn officers, has several partnerships, including with the DuPage Metropolitan Enforcement Group, that are working not only to fight the heroin epidemic but those that are likely to follow.
"We're leaders in DuPage County, we're not followers," Zaruba said. "The next thing is going to be recreational marijuana, which is going to be here in three years. We're always planning ahead for the next epidemic."
Quiroz, a 56-year-old West Chicago resident, lost to Zaruba in the Republican primary in 2010. He has since switched parties and is running as a Democrat.