Drug fight results in Peoria cocaine shortages

DeWayne Bartels

Despite constant demand for cocaine, Peoria has been experiencing some short-lived shortages of the intoxicating white powder lately.

The cause of the shortages, according to Larry Hawkins, director of the Multi-County Narcotics Enforcement Group, is a dearth of dealers, as MEG agents have racked up big numbers in just the first two months of the annual battle against drug suppliers. 

“The info we’re getting from informants, is when we make a big bust lately, cocaine is getting harder to find,” Hawkins said.  

Hawkins said recent stepped-up federal involvement has resulted in increased drug arrests.

“A reason our activity is up is because we have teamed up with the FBI and we are going the federal court route,” Hawkins said.

“Those arrested face more time in federal lock-up and that is an incentive for them to give up their sources. We have been getting further up the ladder.”

But, Hawkins said, it seems no matter how many people they take down there are always people ready to step up and bring illegal narcotics back to the street.

Hawkins laughed when asked if the criminals are getting dumber or his agents are getting smarter.

“We work hard to do the best we can. We are just working harder,” Hawkins said. “We have to. Some of these guys we’re going up against are pretty tricky.”

Hawkins paused.

“There’s also some luck involved,” he said, for his undercover agents culled from police agencies in Peoria, Tazewell, Knox, Woodford, Stark and Marshall counties.

Hawkins said the combination of luck, hard work and federal involvement are all important ingredients in the fight — because he said adequate funding has not been part of the equation for some time.

“We’re hoping the money situation will get better,” Hawkins said.

Under the Bush administration funding for the Byrne Grant, which sustained MEG, was slashed.

“President Obama has added $2 billion to the Byrne Grant. That should bring the funding back up to what it was before the cuts, and add even more money,” Hawkins said. “That’s good news for us.”

Hawkins said, as the added federal money makes its way to area police departments, he is hopeful his rank of undercover officers will swell.

“With the added funding, it will give more departments the opportunity to send us officers to work undercover,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins said he believes the recent battles won against drug dealers in Central Illinois means his agents are winning the drug war.

“But,” Hawkins said, “it’s a never-ending war.”

Washington Police Chief Jim Kuchenbecker said although his department does not have a officer assigned to MEG, it does contribute several thousand dollars each year.

He said MEG is worth every nickle.

“The agents are the best of the Tri-County area and beyond,” he said.

Kuchenbecker added MEG agents are constantly available to investigate drug related concerns within Washington.

“If one of our officers stops a vehicle and finds a significant cache of drugs,” Kuchenbecker said, “then he can the call MEG assigned to the area and he will come out and work the case.”

Kuchenbecker attributes a combination of Washington officers, MEG agents and alert residents to why Washington does not see as large a drug problem a larger metropolitan area would have.

“They work the cases in all the communities,” he said. “No one knows where the case will lead.”

Donelle Pardee Whiting contributed to this story.