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By Ben Meyerson
Oak Park and River Forest's fight against drugs goes beyond just local arrests. Both departments have assigned their officers to bigger roles in the war on drugs both regionally and nationally.
Both departments are members of a special gang and drug task force that combines resources from nine west suburban police departments, called WEDGE. River Forest Detective Sgt. Marty Grill is one of WEDGE's two street commanders.
Since it was founded in 2007, WEDGE's member departments — Oak Park, River Forest, Forest Park, Riverside, North Riverside, Brookfield, Lyons, Berwyn and Stickney — have farmed a few of their officers out roughly six days per month for special targeted missions.
One of WEDGE's main missions, Grill said, is to let people know they're out there and they're watching out for any nefarious activities.
"When we stop kids, we want them to know who we are. We have a lot of people, we have a lot of resources, and we can follow them around," Grill said. "We don't want them to have this invincible attitude that they can do whatever they want."
The very existence of the task force, Grill hopes, is a deterrent.
"If we pick up some of the smaller-time dealers, we send them back with a message: Stay out of our area and don't come back here, because we'll be watching, and when you come back, we're going to be watching again," Grill said.
While WEDGE focuses on regional collaboration, Oak Park has an officer who devotes his time to working on an even bigger scale, as well — detailed full-time to federal Drug Enforcement Agency.
Oak Park police asked that the officer's name not be used because he is occasionally involved in undercover work, but the officer, a veteran of the Oak Park police department, has been working with the DEA full-time for roughly the last five years.
Oak Park still pays his salary despite the fact that he's rarely in the Oak Park police station, but he more than pays for himself, say officials.
That's because Oak Park gets to share in the proceeds from goods and cash seized by the DEA as part of investigations. That's a substantial amount of money, Oak Park Police Chief Rick Tanksley said. It has amounted to as much as several hundred thousand dollars some years.
"We've outfitted the police department with police vehicles and computers and other sorts of equipment," Tanksley said. "If it wasn't for this relationship with the DEA, it would have to come out of our general fund. ... The village, through its general fund, hasn't replaced a police vehicle in a very long time."
Of course, there's also a great institutional value in having an officer working with the DEA. Whenever the department is working on a larger case, Oak Park's DEA agent can be consulted — or brought into the mix.
"He is available to us whenever we need him — we're in constant contact with him," said Oak Park Police Detective Commander LaDon Reynolds. "If we get an informant who has some information, we'll call up our officer."