ONDCP Web Site About ONDCP News and Public Affairs Policy Drug Facts Publications Related Links
Prevention Treatment Science and Technology Enforcement State and Local International Funding

Lake County HIDTA

General Information:
  Year of Designation:  1996
  Geographic Area of Responsibility:

Lake County

    Contact: (219) 650-2470

Mission Statement:

The mission of the Lake County HIDTA is to measurably reduce the availability of illicit drugs, firearms and violence in Northwest Indiana through the use of law enforcement initiatives which are based on a regional strategy that targets individuals, key traffickers and organizations that repeatedly commit drug and violent crimes.

Threat Abstract:

Lake County, with a population of almost one-half million people, is the second largest of the 92 counties in Indiana. Covering approximately 500 square miles and representing 80 different ethnic cultures, the myriad of problems associated with gangs, drugs and guns represent a formidable challenge for the county and its citizens. The county contains 19 incorporated cities and towns with 16 public school corporations. The drug of choice in this county is cocaine, both crack and powdered. Street gangs in the cities of Gary, Hammond and East Chicago control and orchestrate the street level of distribution of cocaine.

Lake County gangs have loose alliances with Chicago based gangs but many of these drug trafficking organizations do not follow any traditional hierarchical structure. They are based in many cases on ad hoc relationships and their ability to purchase and distribute drugs profitably. Violence is used to control or expand territory and to maintain internal controls, resulting in an alarmingly high rate of drug-related homicides. For example, the following graph depicts the homicide rate for the City of Gary, which led the nation for the ninth straight year with more deaths per capita than any other city with a population of over 100,000 people. During 2003 one homicide occurred approximately every four days in the City of Gary. Gary's homicide rate was 66 per 100,000 people while Chicago, led the nation with 599 murders. Following Gary, the next most violent city per 100,000 population was Compton, California.

The Lake County HIDTA includes an FBI- led initiative, the Gang Response Investigative Team that is attacking street gangs from the crack house to the courthouse.

In addition, because of its central geographic location, Lake County is a major distribution point for shipments of bulk marijuana and cocaine destined for the Midwest market. Investigations have identified familial and business ties between Lake County DTOs and Southwest Border DTOs. In 2002, for the first time, an investigation identified a Southeast Asian heroin DTO sending #4 heroin from Thailand directly to Lake County. Additionally, a growing methamphetamine problem throughout the state is quickly spreading to Lake County.

Strategy Abstract:

The Lake County HIDTA Executive Board has approved five separate enforcement initiatives, each complementing the other, without competing or duplicating resources. All five initiatives attack the threat from a different perspective, much like a basketball team applying a full-court press. Each player/initiative is critical to the overall success of the strategy. The enforcement initiatives interface with a collocated Prosecution Initiative that includes county prosecutors who have been designated as Special Assistant United States Attorneys and have the ability to utilize the most appropriate judicial venue to ensure optimal prosecution. A Training Initiative coordinates the collective training of both HIDTA initiatives and area law enforcement. A partnership has been established with the Northwest Indiana Law Enforcement Academy to ensure the coordination and optimal use of training resources throughout the county.

Lake County Initiatives approved by the Executive Board for 2003 included the following:

The DEA State & Local Task Force – is a DEA-led collocated, multi-agency initiative designed to disrupt and dismantle large scale drug trafficking and money laundering organizations operating on a regional and national level. This unit targets organization with U.S./Mexican Southwest Border connections that use Northwest Indiana as a storage and distribution point for cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine destined for the Midwest.

The Gary Response Investigative Team - is an FBI-led multi-jurisdictional, collocated task force with a mission to disrupt and dismantle street level drug trafficking organizations (DTO) responsible for homicides and other drug related crimes in Gary. The GRIT uses detention without bond and federal prosecution as weapons against violent DTOs. This initiative has significantly impacted Gary's crack house epidemic and the violent crimes and plague of homicides it spawned.

The Lake County Combined Task Force - is a collocated, multi-agency task force led by the Lake County Sheriff's Department and the DEA. Its mission is to target, disrupt and dismantle locally established drug trafficking organizations, money laundering organizations, and violent criminal street gangs operating in Lake County.

The Firearms Regional Enforcement Team- is an ATF-led task force that conducts ballistics testing and identification by utilizing the Integrated Ballistic Identification System (IBIS) instrumentation. The IBIS unit can link bullets and casings with other crimes, thereby providing valuable investigative leads. FIRE also identifies and targets persons who illegally purchase, use, and supply firearms. FIRE analyzes firearm transactions and identifies those who obtain firearms through “straw” purchases, the use of fictitious or illegally acquired Indiana handgun permits and unlicensed dealers.

The Prosecution Initiative - provides a full time staff of collocated prosecutors supporting HIDTA enforcement initiatives. The staff provides case support including warrant preparation, legal strategies, training, trial preparation, and prosecution. These Lake County Prosecutors are cross- designated as Special Assistant United States Attorneys to facilitate the filing and prosecution of cases in the proper venue. They have successfully presented cases in both state and federal courts.

The Lake County HIDTA has also formed partnerships with community organizations and the Indiana National Guard in an effort to increase the effectiveness and impact of the HIDTA.

Operation Tattoo Zap provides free laser tattoo removal to former street gang members to enable them to break their ties with the whole gang culture.

The Indiana National Guard conducts a Demand Reduction Program with numerous innovative programs which has reached thousands of inner city kids with a drug free message for a healthy, full life.

Investigative Support Center:

The Intelligence Support Center is the cornerstone of the Lake County HIDTA.

The mission of the ISC is to provide investigative intelligence support to the HIDTA initiatives as will as area law enforcement agencies. The ISC is the only unit in Lake County with co-located access to a number of Federal, State, and Local Law Enforcement databases, as will as commercial databases. Some of these are unique to the ISC. Some examples of these are: County Court records, County Booking records, Police reports of the major cities in Lake County, and unique gag modules resident on a HIDTA-Sponsored inter-city database that are all accessible electronically to the ISC analysts.

Investigative Support that is available includes target and event deconfliction for Officer Safety in Lake County; all HIDTA initiatives are required to use the deconfliction services, and any other law enforcement entities operating in Lake County are invited to use it as well. It is the only resource in Lake County that can provide comprehensive deconfliction for Federal, State and local operations. Deconfliction is through the use of SafetyNet software that links four HIDTA'S (Milwaukee, Chicago, Michigan and Lake County)

The ISC serves as a clearinghouse for all firearms arrests made by the four major departments as well as for the numerous city courts in Northwest Indiana.

The ISC possesses a unique-to-the-area capability to enhance audio and video recordings in support of investigation or court presentations, which has been used in cases ranging from drug trafficking to bank robbery.

Intelligence and analytical support that is available ranges from simple research on criminal histories to detailed document exploitation; charting and production in support of cases; preparation of a wide variety of case-related material, including photographs, maps, charts, and diagrams as needed by investigators and prosecutors; phone tolls and pen analysis; and support to interdiction activities.

The ISC also provides investigative intelligence support to the HIDTA initiatives along with area law enforcement agencies. Support includes analysis of telephone toll and pen register data, preparation of case- related material, including photographs, charts and diagrams, as needed by both investigators and prosecutors.

Participating Agencies:

Federal: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms, Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service, United States Attorney's Office, United States Marshals Service and United States Secret Service.

State/Local: Dyer Police Department, East Chicago Police Department, Gary Police Department, Griffith Police Department, Hammond Police Department, Indiana State Police, Highland Police Department, Lake County Prosecutor's Office, Lake County Sheriff's Department, Merrillville Police Department, Portage Police Department and Schererville Police Department.

Significant Achievements:

Thanks to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), the Lake County HIDTA has the vital technology to help state, local and federal agencies solve firearm-related violent crime in Northwest Indiana.

Through its National Integrated Ballistic Information Network program, ATF has sponsored a Lake County HIDTA initiative which gives local law enforcement agencies access to ballistic imaging and comparison equipment known as the Integrated Ballistic Identification System (IBIS). By enabling HIDTA personnel to make an initial comparison of bullet and cartridge casing evidence from thousands of cases in minutes, IBIS alerts investigators to potential links between violent crimes. A Firearms Examiner then compares the original evidence to confirm a match, providing connections between crimes and criminals that often could not be linked by other means.

The establishment of the ATF IBIS Initiative has significantly enhanced the ability of law enforcement agencies in Northwest Indiana to solve gang-related shootings in the area. For instance, in 2001, Lake County Sheriff's deputies responded to the scene of a drive- by shooting, recovered seven cartridge casings from the scene and submitted them for entry into IBIS. Two weeks later in the City of Gary, a small child was killed in a drive-by shooting. Gary Police Officers recovered 18 cartridge casings and several fired bullets from the crime scene. All were imaged into IBIS. Correlation revealed a potential link between the two cases which was confirmed by a Firearms Examiner at HIDTA.

After the discovery of the link, HIDTA's FBI-led, Northwest Indiana Gang Task Force began an investigation of the Latin Kings, a notorious Gary street gang. The IBIS hit helped to show linkage between gang members and the criminal acts they committed. A Federal Grand Jury subsequently returned a nine-count indictment charging seven gang members with racketeering, arson, attempted murder, narcotics distribution, and the murder of the small child. All gang members were convicted. This was the first ever use of the Federal Racketeering statute against a street gang in the Northern District of Indiana. The cooperation, coordination and resources fostered by the Lake County HIDTA culminated in the dismantlement of a violent drug trafficking organization/gang. This unprecedented example of the marriage of technology and tenacious investigation by uniformed patrol officers, narcotics investigators and federal agents is what the Lake County HIDTA Program has brought to Northwest Indiana.

Previous Contents Next

Last Updated: February 7, 2005