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Lake County HIDTA

Mission Statement: The Lake County HIDTA's mission is to enhance and coordinate drug control efforts among federal, state and local agencies in the HIDTA area, in order to reduce drug trafficking by aggressively dismantling and disrupting drug trafficking and money laundering organizations, thereby reducing drug related crime and violence, in accordance with National Drug Control Strategy.

General Information:
Year of Designation 1996
Geographic Area of Responsibility:
Indiana: Lake County
Contact: (219) 650-2470

Threat Abstract:

Lake County is Indiana's second largest county consisting of approximately 500 square miles with a population of about 490,000 representing 80 different ethnic cultures. The county contains 19 incorporated cities and towns and 16 public school corporations. Crack cocaine is the drug of choice in this county. Gary, Hammond, and East Chicago street gangs orchestrate the street level distribution of this drug. Lake County street gangs have loose alliances with Chicago based gangs, but many of these organizations do not follow any standard hierarchical formation. These Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs) in many cases are based on ad hoc relationships and their ability to purchase and distribute drugs profitably. Violence is used to control or expand their territory and to maintain internal controls, resulting in the extremely high rate of drug related homicides.

Lake County is a major distribution point for shipments of bulk marijuana and cocaine destined for the Midwest. As evidenced, 900 kilograms of marijuana and 400 kilograms of cocaine have recently been seized. Local and federal sources confirm that several Lake County DTOs have familial and business ties to Texas/Mexico DTOs. We have also documented organizations with connections to Southeast United States DTOs. Additionally, a growing methamphetamine production and an increased number of imports into the State of Indiana present an increasing threat to our area.

Strategy Abstract:

The Lake County HIDTA Executive Committee has designed its strategy to avoid duplication of effort and to produce the maximum impact on drug related crime and drug trafficking. Each HIDTA initiative attacks a different element of our threat. All enforcement initiatives consist of collocated federal and state and/or local officers. An Intranet Computer System links the Investigative Support Center, HIDTA initiatives, local police departments, the state police and federal agencies. This System provides a mechanism for sharing of information, access to the local criminal justice system, and the HIDTA Gang Database. Our strategy allows HIDTA initiatives and local law enforcement to work together to identify and target the most violent DTOs and those organizations that will have the greatest impact on quality of life for the citizens of Northwest Indiana. The Lake County HIDTA has formed partnerships with community organizations and the Indiana National Guard in an effort to expand our impact. These partnerships have led to the formation of innovative initiatives. One example is "Operation Tattoo Zap", an initiative providing laser tattoo removal at no cost to former gang members. The HIDTA provides the administrative services and the Lake County Medical Society donates the cost of renting the laser. During 1999, the all-volunteer professional staff removed over 300 tattoos. The newest demand reduction initiative is "About Face" which provides after school computer and life skills training course for at risk students. The National Guard administers this initiative and the guardsman heading the program is a certified teacher.

Investigative Support Center:

The Northwest Indiana Investigative Support Center/HIDTA (NIISC) is a multi-agency collocated initiative sponsored by the DEA and Lake County Sheriff Department providing investigative and analytical support to HIDTA initiatives, along with state, federal and local law enforcement agencies operating in the HIDTA area. The ISC provides agencies and initiatives with collocated access to the major criminal and commercial databases, deconfliction, and case support, information sharing, training, video enhancement, audio enhancement, and crime mapping. The ISC also produces our annual Threat Assessments and tracks trend analysis.

Initiatives that were approved to implement the 2000 Lake County HIDTA Strategy include:

  1. The DEA State & Local Task Force—is a DEA led collocated, multi-agency initiative designed to disrupt and dismantle large scale drug trafficking and money laundering organizations operating in and throughout the Lake County, Indiana area. This unit targets organizations with U.S./Mexican Southwest Border connections who use Northwest Indiana as a storage and distribution point for cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine destined for the Midwest.
  2. The Gary Response Investigative Team (GRIT)—is a FBI led multi-jurisdictional, collocated taskforce with a mission to disrupt and dismantle street level DTOs responsible for the homicides and drug related crimes in Gary. The GRIT uses detention without bond and federal prosecution as weapons against these violent DTOs. This initiative has significantly impacted Gary's crack house epidemic and the violent crimes and the plague of homicides it spawned.
  3. The Firearms Interdiction Regional Enforcement (FIRE)—is an ATF led collocated, multi-jurisdictional taskforce. This taskforce identifies, investigates, and prosecutes in Federal and State Courts persons who illegally purchase, use, distribute, and supply firearms. The taskforce analyzes firearm transactions and identifies those who obtain firearms through "straw" purchases, the use of fictitious or illegally acquired Indiana handgun permits, and licensed and unlicensed dealers.
  4. The Integrated Ballistic Identification System (IBIS)—is a collocated support initiative that conducts special ballistics testing and identification of bullets/casings utilizing IBIS instrumentation. This unit provides for comparison of samples with the IBIS database and the databases in Indianapolis, Chicago, and the Indiana State Police Posts. The IBIS unit has the potential to link bullets and casings with other crimes, thereby providing HIDTA initiatives and local law enforcement with valuable investigative leads.
  5. The Lake County Combined Taskforce (LCCTF)—is a collocated multi-agency taskforce led by the Lake County Sheriff's Department and the DEA. Its mission is to target, disrupt and dismantle locally established drug trafficking organizations, money-laundering organizations, and violent criminal street gangs operating in Lake County.
  6. Northwest Indiana Gang Task Force—is a FBI led multi-agency initiative, collocated with the GRIT team, that identifies and investigates Northwest Indiana based violent street gangs. This initiative successfully uses Federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) statutes to disrupt and dismantle organizations involved in drug trafficking, homicides, serious assaults, extortion, weapon violations, and money laundering.
  7. The Lake County Prosecution Initiative—provides a full time staff of collocated prosecutors supporting HIDTA enforcement initiatives. The staff provides case support including preparation, legal strategies, education, trial preparation, and prosecution. These Lake County Prosecutors are cross-designated as Special Assistant United States Attorneys to facilitate the filing and prosecution of cases in the proper venue. They have successfully presented cases in both state and federal court.
  8. The Drug Demand Reduction Program—is a collocated counter drug operation. Indiana National Guard personnel work with Boys and Girls Clubs, public housing authorities, Weed & Seed Grants, and school corporations providing alternative activities and mentoring programs. The programs includes "Hooked on Fishing", "Checkmate on Drugs", Career Days, the "Just Say No" puppet show, Drug Education For Youth (DEFY) program and camps, Explorer Scouts, and "About Face".
  9. Operation Tattoo Zap—is a community outreach program providing free tattoo removal for former gang members. This volunteer program allows former gang members to shed a once permanent identifier and reenter main stream society. The Lake County Medical Society donates the cost of the laser rental and the HIDTA administers the program. A board-certified plastic surgeon, a certified family nurse practitioner, and a registered nurse donate their time to the program.

Outcomes:

  1. The HIDTA area, through the efforts of local police and HIDTA initiatives, had a continued reduction in homicides from a high of 166 in 1995 down to 106 in 1999. These statistics reflect an approximate 40% reduction in homicides since 1995.
  2. The violent crime rate in Gary fell approximately 12% from 1998 to 1999, the largest decrease the city has seen in five years. The Gary Police Department credited the addition of 20 police officers to the department and the impact of HIDTA initiatives for the decrease. With the improved crime rate and economic forecast, the city is now negotiating to bring minor league baseball and CBA basketball to the city. Gary will host the 2001 Miss U.S.A. Pageant.
  3. HIDTA initiatives dismantled or disrupted 64 DTOs including the two largest distribution organizations in Northwest Indiana. These investigations resulted in the seizure of $2.7 million in cash and assets, along with 3,000 pounds of marijuana and 1,000 pounds of cocaine.
  4. The HIDTA, working with the City of Gary and the Partnership for a Drug Free Lake County, increased drug education and drug awareness by promoting a symposium attended by over 1000 residents of Northwest Indiana. Representatives of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies along with treatment, prevention and medical professionals from Lake, Porter, and LaPorte Counties participated in the symposium.
  5. We expanded our National Guard Demand Reduction program from 350 contacts in 1998 to over 4,000 during 1999. We also expanded "Checkmate on Drugs", a mentoring program that teaches chess to 90 students from 5 different schools.

Participating Agencies:

Federal: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service, United States Attorney's Office, United States Customs Service, United States Marshals Service, United States Secret Service, United States Postal Inspection Service

Locals: Dyer Police Department, East Chicago Police Department, Gary Police Department, Griffith Police Department, Hammond Police Department, Highland Police Department, Hobart Police Department, Indiana State Police, Lake County Prosecutors Office, Lake County Sheriff Department, Lake Station Police Department, Lowell Police Department, Merrillville Police Department, Portage Police Department, Porter County Sheriff Department, Schererville Police Department, and the Valparaiso Police Department

Other: Indiana National Guard, Indiana State Probation and Parole, Partnership for a Drug Free Lake County, Lake County Juvenile Court, Lake County Probation, Lake County Community Corrections, Lake County Medical Society, Lake County Commissioners, Lake County Council, Lake County Treasurer, Lake County Auditor, and the Lake County Recorder

Information is provided by the Lake County HIDTA

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