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Forest Park is making a major investment in the war on drugs, assigning an officer from the village’s Police Department to a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) task force.

The Village Council voted unanimously Oct. 9 to direct police Chief Tom Aftanas to assign an officer to the task force. The officer was not identified to protect his identity during the task force’s undercover activities, according to Sharon Lindskoog, public information officer of DEA Chicago.

Aftanas said a DEA representative approached him after the Forest Park officer was recommended by another officer from a nearby department who is already serving on the task force and is familiar with the Forest Park officer’s work.

Lindskoog explained that task force officers are selected on an individual basis with agreement by both DEA and the corresponding local department.  They also go through a DEA vetting process prior to their official start, she added.

Aftanas said the village stands to benefit in multiple ways from assigning the officer to the DEA task force including specialized training.

“Our officer will gain invaluable experience that will benefit our department,” he explained. “Task force members train on different methods of surveillance, preparing search warrants and wire taps.” 

Participating in the task force could benefit the village financially. Under the federal asset forfeiture program, law enforcement can seize money and assets of those accused of dealing drugs and any vehicle believed to have been used in drug sales.

Aftanas said he is expecting Forest Park will receive a percentage of assets seized by the task force. He said some departments have received as much as $200,000 in a year but noted that figure varies from year to year and from department to department.

Another benefit, according to Aftanas, is resource sharing. 

“Obviously, the federal agencies have more resources available that could benefit us in the future,” he explained. “Local officers are also ‘deputized’ which expands their jurisdiction.

“Information we receive at the local level may not be directly linked to Forest Park, therefore, information is sometimes shared with other local agencies that may or may not take action. Now, this information can be given to our task force officer who can investigate it even if outside Forest Park limits. The opiate epidemic and drug trade is in every jurisdiction to one degree or another. Teaming up with federal agencies gives us both (DEA/Forest Park) a greater ability to fight this on-going problem.” 

Forest Park will continue to pay the officer’s salary and benefits but the DEA will cover overtime costs up to $18,434.75 annually. Aftanas said he does not plan to hire an officer to replace the one assigned to the task force even though the department continues to be short-staffed.  

Three retirements will leave the department short-handed by January. Aftanas had previously been given authorization to hire one officer and received Village Council approval Oct. 23 to add two more officers in time to send all three to the next police academy session that starts in January. Two officers hired in August are at the police academy but expected to join the department after they graduate in December.

According to the agreement, the Forest Park officer will serve on the task force until September 2019 with the option to renew. Aftanas explained his department can call the officer back with 30 days notification.

Aftanas noted precedent for this type of assignment was established when then-Officer Justin Diano served on a U.S. Customs Service task force from 2009 to 2015. Aftanas said the department’s percentage of assets seized by that task force helped pay the renovation of the police facility at 501 Des Plaines Ave. and the garage/sally-port connecting that facility to the municipal complex at 517 Des Plaines. He said the village received more than $2 million from Diano’s tenure with that task force and continues to receive awards as old Customs Service cases are adjudicated in court.

The DEA is charged with the enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act as well as investigation of the highest level of domestic and international narcotics traffickers, according to the DEA website. Established in 1973, this anti-drug agency combined the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs and Customs’ drug agents to provide exclusive enforcement of federal drug laws. 

In 2016, the DEA State and Local Task Force Program managed 271 state and local task forces.