A new approach to the drug problem

DeWayne Bartels

Tom Larson is going to approach North Peoria neighborhood association members to make a difference in Peoria’s crime rate.

Larson, a lieutenant of the Peoria Police vice and narcotics unit, is heading up a new program called the Drug Market Initiative/Intervention Program, also known as DMI.

Larson recently spoke to the East Bluff United Neighborhood Association about the new program.

Larson said, while the program is not being played out in North Peoria, the far north part of the city needs to be involved to make the program work.

A new approach

The program is in play right now in an eight-block section of the city he would not identify. Larson said the area selected has a heavy drug influence.

The program begins with an area being infiltrated by undercover police officers. They make drug buys and gather video surveillance of drug deals in the area.

After the intelligence is gathered, the police identify low-level drug dealers with no violence in their records and high-level drug dealers.

The police will arrest the high-level drug dealers.

“We send the low-level dealers a letter letting them know they have come to the attention of the police,” Larson said.

The low-level dealers are invited to a meeting, and told they will not be arrested if they come. At the meeting, they are confronted by members of the community and they are told the community is working with the police to take back the targeted neighborhood. 

The police confront the low-level dealers with the video evidence they have and an unsigned arrest warrant with their name on it. They are told the warrant will be signed if they are found dealing drugs again.

Larson said those unsigned warrants can he held over a dealer’s head for 18 months if the crime is a misdemeanor and three years for a felony. 

“We’ll tell them they have one chance. This is it,” Larson said.

Social service agencies will be at the meeting to offer help.

“Hopefully, they will take the help offered,” Larson said.

If not, the Peoria County State’s Attorney’s office is prepared.

Larson said assistant state’s attorney Seth Uphoff has been assigned to work with the police unit.

“From start to finish, he will be in charge. Seth is going to ask for high bonds,” Larson said. “Having to come up with $5,000 or $10,000 in cash will keep some of them in jail.”

A fresh start

Larson said the program offers the targeted neighborhoods a fresh start, and the residents of the rest of the city less crime.

“A lot of our crime problem is fueled by drugs. Most of the violent crime here is tied to the drug trade,” Larson said.

Peoria is one of nine cities in the country using this program, funded by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Larson said he has great hopes the program will make a difference in the drug trade, but it depends on public support.

“This program depends on public support. That’s an important part of DMI, directly facing the next generation of problems,” he said. “We will be approaching North Peoria neighborhood associations. It’s going to take showing these people we are standing as a community. There’s more of us — citizens, police, prosecutors and judges — then there are of them. It’s been proven to work in other cities.”

Larson said in his 30 years of police work, this program is one of the most exciting he has worked with.  “I can’t guarantee DMI will work,” Larson said, “but what we have tried so far hasn’t worked.”