First person account: Preparing for the worst
By Julie Gerke
From the eye in the sky of a state police aircraft, the breach of a rural drug house was easy to follow.
A short string of trucks and cars made its way down a country road, stopping quickly to allow a handful of armed police to run toward the house, try to make entry and then succeed with a second attempt.
Members of the Jacksonville Police Department’s Special Response Team arrested the occupants without a problem, thanks to years of training, coordination and trust.
During the fifth week of the JPD (Jacksonville Police Department) Citizen’s Police Academy, that training was explained and displayed at the department’s regional training facility near Lake Jacksonville. The night’s presentation tied together work of the Central Illinois Enforcement Group drug task force and SRT (Special Response Team), whose many duties include serving warrants in high-risk cases.
Six of the 17 members (including me) in the citizen’s police academy class participated in a demonstration of a hostage rescue by SRT members. Using a West Central Mass Transit District bus, the “hostages” were told to sit in seats behind the driver and to follow each direction given by officers, with the “bad guy,” represented by JPD Officer Phillip Warren, seated at the back of the opposite row.
We were told what to expect and wore protective masks in case a training round (similar to a small paintball, embedded with BBs) went astray.
The interior bus lights were turned off. Officers outside used two “flash bangs,” or stun grenades, to distract the bad guy and immediately boarded the bus, heading to the back row and telling passengers “Get down, get down.” The officers made their way to Warren and surrounded his seat, ordering him up and then out of the bus. An officer then moved row by row, telling hostages to raise their/our hands, hurry off the bus and head to a designated area.
The entire incident seemed quick — maybe 30 seconds? — the noise, flash and smoke from the flashbangs, quick entry into a dark bus by guys with guns, the hustling out by Warren and the urging of another officer for us to get up and leave. A cellphone video by classmate Alvin Corbridge, who had stayed outside, revealed it took 1.52 minutes from flashbang to the last officer off the bus.
JPD Deputy Chief Chad Moore said the team, established in 2006, also is called for barricaded subjects, personal security details, crowd control, department training, and search and rescue.
Sometimes, the team’s work coincides with the CIEG (Central Illinois Enforcement Group), the drug task force with members from local departments, state police and Drug Enforcement Administration. The JPD officer embedded with the Springfield-based office often works undercover; The Source Newspaper agreed to not identify them by photograph or name.
The task force officers work on covert investigations, surveillance, active drug investigations and controlled drug purchases, often using confidential informants who offer to help in possible exchange for a lighter sentence in a pending case. To further keep their identities secret, officers usually work well outside the boundaries of their home departments.
Methamphetamine remains the largest drug problem in Central Illinois, the CIEG officer said, mainly because it’s a quick high, easy to find and relatively cheap. Meth ice, which looks like rock salt or tiny chips of ice, is much more common than cooked meth. Several years ago, an ounce of meth ice cost up to $600; recent prices are below $200. The drug can be smoked, inhaled or ingested.
Citing statistics from several years ago, the officer said methamphetamine abuse has an annual $23.4 billion impact on the U.S. economy. “It’s second only to cannabis as the most widely abused illegal drug in the world,” the officer said.
Fentanyl, which is 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin, is becoming more common in Illinois. The synthetic heroin can be added to other drugs, with the user unknowingly ingesting it. Recent high-profile cases include a toddler who touched fentanyl residue in a rented vacation house and a southern Illinois student who smoked weed mixed with the drug.
Warren, the patrol officer, said police are careful during searches to ensure they are not stuck with a needle or touching a deadly drug that could look like simple powder or a legitimate pill. “If you don’t know what it is, don’t touch it,” Warren told the class.
Next week: Police chaplains and first responders