Despite crack bust, drugs remain a problem in west Evanston

Sheila Burt and Sheila Burt

When Evanston resident Michele Hays says she sees the city’s drug problem right in her backyard, she means it.

“About a year and half ago, there was a shooting at the Tasty Sub on Howard (Street) and Damen (Avenue) on the Chicago side,” Hays said. “The victim of the shooting jumped my gate and was hiding in my backyard. I had to call 911 and get an ambulance.

“If that is not a quality-of-life issue, I don’t know what is,” she said.

For residents like Hays, drugs remain a significant problem in Evanston, even after the major bust that Evanston Police Department and federal authorities announced last month. In what police called one of the more significant busts in EPD history, officials said April 20 that they crippled a multimillion-dollar crack cocaine operation in west Evanston.

“I don’t think any community is free from the drug trade,” Chief Frank Kaminski of EPD told The Daily last week. “All communities are touched some way or another.”

In fighting the complex network of drug-dealing, Evanston police face the challenge of being close to a focal point for drug and gang activity. The ring may start in Chicago, but the drugs don’t stop at Howard Street — their effects stretch across Evanston and onto Northwestern’s campus.

transcending borders

Cocaine and marijuana are the most prevalent drugs in Evanston, while other drugs, such as heroin and methamphetamines, have yet to hit the city, according to EPD officials.

At NU drugs most commonly used by students are marijuana and hallucinogens, with fewer cases of crack cocaine, said Assistant Chief Daniel McAleer of University Police.

He said students looking for drugs receive them from both local sellers and student dealers.

“We’re finding that we may have a few more students that are dealing in narcotics rather than just consuming them,” McAleer said.

Being so close to Chicago may make it easier for drug dealers at NU and in Evanston to get their supplies.

According to a report from the National Drug Intelligence Center published last month, Chicago is a hub for distribution of cocaine — in both rock and powder form — throughout the Midwest.

The report states that much of the distribution is done by Chicago-based gangs, such as the Gangster Disciples — the main gang targeted in EPD’s recent bust and also the focus of a recent sting by the Chicago Police Department.

Eight Gangster Disciples members were arrested Thursday in connection with a crack ring run out of the Cabrini Green projects in Chicago, said Chicago Police spokeswoman Amina Greer.

Although the Chicago market may affect Evanston and NU’s supply of drugs, police insist that being adjacent to Chicago is only one piece of a much larger puzzle.

“It can come from anywhere — it doesn’t just have to be Chicago,” said Deputy Chief Michael Perry of EPD.

To combat drugs in Evanston, EPD employs a Neighborhood Enforcement Team, which was involved with the operation and also works with UP. The team initiated 101 drug arrests and investigated 18 drug tips from residents in 2003, according to EPD’s annual report.

“We focus on gangs and drugs throughout Evanston,” said Cmdr. Tom Cabanski, head of NET. “It’s a never-ending process.”

NET’s efforts have contributed to the fewer number of drug incidents since 2000, police said. The amount of non-marijuana drug incidents has been cut almost in half over the past two years, from 199 in 2001, to 109 last year.

Across Communities

Although EPD sees crack cocaine and marijuana most often — compared to Chicago’s variety of drugs — the Evanston drug problem stretches across all communities, police said.

The drug problem for many Evanston community members is exemplified by people peeking out of car windows and passing bags with grassy or white substances with money.

Laine Wood, chairwoman of the neighborhood group Crown Park Neighbors, said she and her neighbors see teenagers getting high near the Robert Crown Center, 1701 Main St., almost three times a week when the weather is warm. Other residents said hot spots include some of Dodge Avenue, including the area near Evanston Township High School, 1600 Dodge Ave.

“It’s unsafe,” said Wood, who lives on the 900 block of Wesley Avenue. “People don’t feel as willing to go out to the store. It’s a violation of our neighborhood and the community that we work hard to provide for all the kids.”

Wood said she believes it is too early to tell if the last month’s drug bust will have much effect.

Busts can help cut down on the drug problem, though it won’t stop the problem completely, Hays said. Hays, who lives on the 700 block of Dobson Street, added that last year’s operation on Howard Street proved effective in dampening the effect of drugs in her neighborhood.

“It’s starting to trickle back in the neighborhood a little bit, but certainly it has lessened,” she said.

But police said busts will disrupt the flow of the drugs by cutting off the supply line.

“We’re looking at it as a major reduction in gang-influenced drug dealing and the violence it’s inherent with,” said Gary Boertlein, spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration in Chicago, whose organization worked with EPD on the operation.

battling the problem

Besides a police force specifically targeting drugs in the city, several community members said the drug problem is too complex for only law enforcement officials to tackle.

“I think that we need increased presence, more visibility, and we need it for a sustained period of time — lengthened action that shows this behavior isn’t going to be tolerated,” said community activist Mimi Peterson, who lives on the 700 block of Wesley Avenue.

To help treat the problem, Evanston’s PEER Services, 906 Davis St., offers a substance abuse prevention and outreach program. Kate Mahoney, executive director of PEER, said the programs provide intervention or treatment to about 350 Evanston teens in a given year.

Mahoney said that while most Evanston teens are not using drugs, those with problems usually need treatment for alcohol or marijuana.

Sara Christensen, a community program development coordinator at PEER, said a comprehensive approach of drug crackdowns and treatment will help reduce the drug problem in Evanston.

“(The drug) issue comes across all economic lines, all races, both genders,” she said. “It’s not just an issue occurring in only one population.”

A Neighborhood Effort

Ald. Joseph Kent (5th), whose ward is on the west side of the city, said he often rides with police in the summer to get a sense of the issues facing some Evanston communities. He said drug issues are a major conflict in the area.

“People on the west side have struggled with (the drug problem) in and out,” Kent told The Daily in April, adding that the drug bust is a victory for these residents.

But in the dizzying world of drugs, nothing is conclusive.

One lifelong Evanston resident who has lived on the 1900 block of Jackson Avenue for six years said she’s ready to move because of the drug problem. Drugs, she said, are hidden everywhere, even in people’s backyards.

“I don’t even go out of house at night unless I’m in some car,” said the woman, who asked not to have her name published because of safety concerns.

The woman said the police drive by her block about 10 to 15 times a day and are called by residents for various reasons nearly three to four times a day. But no arrests have been made because the dealers do not carry a lot of drugs on them at once, she said.

“They’re selling drugs right down from where I live,” she said. “You can’t sleep, you can’t do anything. It makes you nervous.”