Research Report  |  Law Enforcement

Evaluation of Illinois Multi-Jurisdictional Drug Task Forces

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Drug trafficking is the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, and sale of drugs.[1] Trafficking of drugs is a violent enterprise due to the need to exhibit strength and force to competitors and rivals, as well as for retribution against lower-level distributors who do not sell. [2] Despite violence and risk of law enforcement involvement and punishment, the potentially great monetary rewards tempt some into drug trafficking. Drug trafficking directly contributes to violent crime, availability of illicit drugs, growing numbers of drug users, and increasing numbers of drug-related hospitalizations and deaths. [3] Therefore, drug trafficking constitutes a major threat to public health and the well-being of society.

In order to combat drug trafficking, states employ the use of multijurisdictional drug task forces, which are made up of law enforcement officers from state, county, and local police departments to pool resources to more efficiently and effectively combat the drug distribution in multiple jurisdictions. [4] For more than 20 years, the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (ICJIA) has administered federal funding to metropolitan enforcement groups (MEG) and multi-jurisdictional drug task forces (TFs), collectively referred to as MEG/TFs.

Methods

Researchers conducted an evaluation of 19 MEG/TFs federally funded by ICJIA in 2016. Prior research has been limited to output measures, such as total arrests, due to difficulties differentiating between the impact of MEG/TFs and other local and federal law enforcement efforts. [5] Researchers used quantitative and qualitative methods in this study to measure MEG/TF processes and outcomes MEG/TF administrative data and state arrest records were analyzed.

ICJIA researchers conducted focus groups with members of 18 MEG/TFs on resources, structure, guidance, operations, investigations, collaboration, and long-term goals. Researchers collected surveys from 75 MEG/TF staff to measure collaboration and adherence to critical elements of success. Finally, 19 MEG/TF policy board chairmen were surveyed to on proceedings of policy board meetings, how the policy board guides operations, and MEG/TF resources.

Researchers obtained administrative data from the MEG/TFs on all 2013 arrestees, the majority of whom were tracked through conviction and sentencing in 2016. Arrest records were electronically extracted from the Illinois State Police Criminal History Record Information System. This allowed a comparison of MEG/TF drug arrest outcomes to those of arrests made by local law enforcement in the same counties during the same time period. Also examined were arrest histories of those arrested by a MEG/TF.

Findings

The evaluation findings indicated MEG/TFs made proportionately more serious drug arrests, such as those for felonies and for drug manufacture/delivery, than their local police counterparts. They also collaborated with stakeholders, maintained fidelity to critical elements of MEG/TFs, and garnered support from their policy boards.

Arrests by MEG/TFs compared to non-MEG/TFs

MEG/TFs made proportionately more manufacture and delivery arrests than local police departments in the counties examined, at 53 percent and 14 percent, respectively, and fewer possession arrests, at 44 percent and 69 percent, respectively (Figure 1). Additionally, a higher percentage of the non-drug arrests made by MEG/TF involved deadly weapons. Of the 294 MEG/TF arrests for non-drug offenses in 2013, 37 percent of arrests were for deadly weapons. Deadly weapons charges accounted for only 1 percent of non-drug arrests made by local police.


Figure 1

TYPES OF DRUG ARREST BY MEG/TF COMPARED TO NON-MEG/TF


Source: Administrative 2013 MEG/TF arrest data and CHRI data
Note: Other drug arrests include violations of the Hypodermic Syringes & Needles Act and Drug Paraphernalia Act.

Illinois MEG/TFs also made proportionately more controlled substance arrests (59 percent) than non-MEG/TFs (28 percent) and more felony controlled substance arrests (90 percent) than non-MEG/TFs in the same counties (83 percent). Their arrests also were more likely to be for felonies. Seventy-four percent of MEG/TF arrests were for felonies compared to 31 percent of law enforcement arrests in the same counties.

MEG/TFs made proportionately fewer cannabis arrests (38 percent) than non-MEG/TFs in the same counties (55 percent). When arrests were made for violations of the Illinois Cannabis Control Act, MEG/TFs made proportionately more felony arrests (55 percent) than non-MEG/TFs (14 percent). This held true for even cannabis possession arrests; 50 percent of MEG/TF possession of cannabis arrests were for misdemeanors compared to 76 percent of non-MEG/TFs.

Fidelity to critical elements of success

The U.S Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance developed 12 critical elements of success for MEG/TFs.[6] Researchers surveyed MEG/TF staff on their adherence to the critical elements using a five-point Likert-scale ranging from one (strongly disagree) to five (strongly agree). Figure 2 depicts their responses, which show strong fidelity to the critical elements of MEG/TFs.

Figure 2

FIDELITY TO MEG/TF CRITICAL ELEMENTS (n=75)

Data source: ICJIA survey of staff of 19 Illinois MEG/TFs.
Note: On scale of Strongly disagree=1 to Strongly agree=5.

Implications for Policy and Practice

Based on the evaluation findings and supported by literature, ICJIA researchers offered the following suggestions to optimize MEG/TF operations and combat drug trafficking.

Broaden organizations in MEG/TF collaboration

Surveys of staff and policy board chairmen indicated additional collaboration was warranted with external groups. Specifically, staff indicated a need for more prosecutorial involvement in MEG/TFs. Focus group participants noted that at times prosecutors required a great deal of evidence, significantly reduced serious arrest charges of those arrested by MEG/TFs, and were inexperienced and dealt with high caseloads. Improved communication with prosecutors could be achieved via one-on-one meetings with MEG/TF staff, policy board meeting participation, and providing annual and evaluation reports. Collaboration with stakeholders is critical for effective law enforcement practices. [7]

Concentrate efforts on felony-level cannabis trafficking

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, “Marijuana prohibition is unique among U.S. criminal laws—no other law is both enforced so widely and harshly yet deemed unnecessary by such a substantial portion of the population.”[8] Despite growing public acceptance of cannabis, according to the MEG/TFs, cannabis is widely distributed illegally and at high profit. Illinois is a top destination for Colorado cannabis and Interstate 80 is known as a drug pipeline.[9] The Drug Policy Alliance argues the need exists for law enforcement to reduce related cannabis-related crime, corruption, violence, massive illicit markets, and physical and mental health consequences including substance use disorders.[10] A small portion of all MEG/TF arrests, but half of the MEG/TF’s possession of cannabis arrests, were for misdemeanors (143 arrests in 2013). As they were designed to handle higher-level trafficking cases, MEG/TFs should focus on cannabis traffickers rather than arresting for possession of marijuana for personal use.

Explore alternate sources of funding to sustain MEG/TF operations

Federal Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants (JAG) support most state MEG/TFs, but funding has declined.[11] Illinois saw a 47-percent decrease in JAG funding between federal fiscal years 2010 and 2016. Other states have dedicated general state revenue to support MEG/TFs, allowing the use of JAG funds to “address emerging needs, implement innovative approaches and provide increased seed money for new programming.” [12]

Prioritize the investigation of heroin and other opioid traffickers

The country is experiencing an opioid crisis that was declared a public health emergency. The prioritization of opioid traffickers by law enforcement can help reduce overdose deaths.[13] The arrest and prosecution of opioid distributors can deter other prospective traffickers and dealers.[14] Local law enforcement officers responding to an overdose can gather intelligence and evidence useful to MEG/TFs seeking high-level traffickers. [15] MEG/TF collaboration with prosecutors with a focus on convicting opioid traffickers on can further deter drug dealing, reduce potential users, and prevent overdose.

Use MEG/TF as one tactic in a coordinated response to drug issues

U.S. drug control policy favors a comprehensive approach focusing on prevention of substance use, substance use disorder treatment, and trafficking law enforcement.[16]. MEG/TF and local police should use a two-pronged approach—reduce drug supply and trafficking and, when appropriate, refer those with substance use disorders to treatment rather than arresting them. [17] Some Illinois counties have already moved in this direction. Lake, Lee, and Whiteside counties are served by a MEG/TF, employ police-assisted recovery initiatives, and maintain police representation on local drug task forces and coalitions.[18]

Conclusion

Researchers found Illinois MEG/TFs to be effective at making proportionately more felony and manufacture/delivery drug arrests than their local counterparts. MEG/TF staff survey responses showed a strong fidelity to the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s 12 critical elements of MEG/TFs. In addition, MEG/TFs collaborated with stakeholders and garnered support from their policy boards.Researchers suggested broadening and strengthening MEG/TF collaboration with prosecutors to ensure successful conviction rates. Researchers also suggested a concentrated effort on felony cannabis trafficking arrests with a focus on cannabis traffickers rather than personal users. Due to the general decline of federal funding for criminal justice, MEG/TFs should explore alternate sources of funding to sustain operations. In addition, MEG/TFs should be employed as just one tactic in a coordinated response to complex state and community drug issues. Finally, MEG/TFs should prioritize investigation of heroin and other opioid distributors, especially when contributing to high overdose deaths, to combat the current opioid crisis.


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  6. Bureau of Justice Assistance (2000). Creating a new criminal justice system for the 21st century: Findings and results from state and local program evaluations. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Program, Bureau of Justice Assistance. ↩︎
  7. International Association of Chiefs of Police. (2016). Intelligence led community policing, community prosecution, and community partnerships. Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. ↩︎
  8. Drug Policy Alliance (2016). Why is marijuana decriminalization not enough? New York, NY: Author. ↩︎
  9. Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. (2017). The legalization of marijuana in Colorado: The impact. Denver, CO: author. ↩︎
  10. Drug Policy Alliance (2016).Why is marijuana decriminalization not enough? New York, NY: Author. ↩︎
  11. National Criminal Justice Association. (n.d.). Multi-jurisdictional taskforces: Providing stability and expanding investment. Washington, DC: Author. ↩︎
  12. National Criminal Justice Association. (n.d.). Multi-jurisdictional taskforces: Providing stability and expanding investment. Washington, DC: Author. ↩︎
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  14. National Heroin Task Force. (2015). National heroin task force: Final report and recommendation. Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/file/822231/download ↩︎
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  16. Murphy, K., Becker, M., Locke, J., Kelleher, C., McLeod, …, & Isasi, F. (2016) Finding solutions to the prescription opioid and heroin crisis: A road map for states. Washington, D.C.: National Governors Association Center for Best Practices. Retrieved from https://www.nga.org/files/live/sites/NGA/files/pdf/2016/1607NGAOpioidRoadMap.pdf; Office of National Drug Control Policy, (n.d.) About ONDCP. Executive Office of the President. Retrieved from http://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/about; Sacco, L. N. (2014).Drug enforcement in the United States; History, policy and trends. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service. ↩︎
  17. Charlier, J. (2015). Want to reduce drugs in your community? You might want to deflect instead of arrest. The Police Chief, 30-31.; Reichert, J., & Gleicher, L. (2017). Rethinking law enforcement’s role on drugs: The future of law enforcement drug diversion. Chicago, IL: Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority. ↩︎
  18. Reichert, J., & Gleicher, L. (2017). Rethinking law enforcement’s role on drugs: The future of law enforcement drug diversion. Chicago, IL: Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority. ↩︎
This project was supported by Award No. 13-DJ-BX-0012 awarded by the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice or the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.

Evaluation of Illinois Multi-Jurisdictional Drug Task Forces