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Target America: Interview with Philip J. Cline

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On Friday, August 11th, the DEA traveling exhibit - Target America: Opening Eyes to the Damage Drugs Cause will open to the public at the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago, Illinois. To learn more about the exhibit and drug enforcement in the Chicago area, DEA.gov spoke with the Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, Philip J. Cline.

photo-Administrator Tandy and Superintendent Cline

Can you talk about the working relationship the Chicago Police Department has with the DEA?

“Our working relationship with the DEA goes back a long way, back to the early 70’s when the DEA was established. This relationship has enabled us to take the street knowledge of cops and combine it with the resources of the federal government and the DEA. As a result, we have made a lot of great cases, and we have been able to follow cases beyond not only city and state borders, but country borders as well. It enabled us to find the sources of the drugs.”

How about any recent successes that you can talk about?

“We have a number of great successes with the DEA, most recently we had a takedown called, Operation Snakebite, which was geared towards the Mickey Cobra street gang. (The gang) was operating out of a housing complex known as the Dearborn Homes and we charged 47 people with various narcotics charges in federal court. We were getting a lot of overdoses with the heroin laced with fentanyl coming out of the Dearborn community and this operation curtailed activity in that area.”

“As we are speaking right now, DEA agents and Chicago police officers are working in the Englewood community on the south side of Chicago where earlier this year we had two tragic deaths of young girls. The girls were shot to death in their home from random gang gunfire. This area is plagued by narcotic trafficking and open-air drug markets. DEA and Chicago police have put together a task force to attack that problem. DEA has always stepped up in this city whenever we have needed their help and we have a great working relationship with them.”

How is the Chicago Police Department organized to handle drug trafficking in the city?

“We have a narcotics section which is 300 officers and they work exclusively on street- level narcotics and on mid-level drug dealers. But we have most of our success going after the larger narcotic organizations by working in the task forces with DEA.”

photo - Target America Exhibit photo - Target America Exhibit

Does the Chicago Police Department have any anti-drug programs in the local communities?

“We have our DARE program in all of our schools and we also have a preventive program in all of our divisions. These officers are charged with talking to community groups and schools about the evils of drug abuse. We also have a 311, non-emergency phone line that any Chicago citizen can call into and they will be directed to where to get help if they want to seek help for their drug problem.”

photo - Target America

Can you talk about the exhibit and your role with it?

“I have been the co-chairman with Tim Ogden (DEA) on the Chicago Story portion of the exhibit which looks at the history of not only drug enforcement but law enforcement as well in our city. It has been an exciting project which has given us the opportunity to get together with a lot of DEA and Chicago narcotics officers, past and present. I think it is a tremendous successand more importantly, it is an important message for kids in our community. This exhibit will help us to sway kids from getting involved with drugs in the first place.”

I heard that you donated some personal artifacts for the exhibit, can you elaborate?

“A lot of us went through our old pictures and donated them to the Chicago story portion of the exhibit. We’ll get a kick out of seeing how we looked when we had beards, long hair…and no gray hair.”

Can you talk about the difference in drug trafficking from the 1970s when you were part of a task force and now, as the Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department?

“What is interesting is still the most successful weapon against drug trafficking is the special agent or police officer that is willing to go undercover and infiltrate the drug ring in order to gather evidence to present in court. That hasn’t changed at all in the 36 years that I have been on the job. What has changed, when I was working narcotics 30 years ago is that if you wanted to make a buy, everything was done through the telephone. Now in the open-air drug market, you have gangs arming themselves and entering neighborhoods to sell drugs. This really plagues communities. So whenever we can do an operation like Snakebite, it makes us feel like we are making a difference.”

Is it true that drug addicts are actually seeking out fentanyl-laced heroin?

“Unfortunately, drug users want to get the most extreme high they can without killing themselves. That is the typical victim of this crime. When we started getting the fentanyl overdoses in Chicago, we put out flyers and notified the media. The dealers used the flyers to advertise the fentanyl, which actually drew dealers to certain street corners. One district manager told me that he had to put traffic control in one area because so many addicts showed up trying to buy these drugs.”

Can anything good come out of this fentanyl outbreak?

“We are hoping that if there was ever a time for an addict to seek treatment, now is the time. You are playing Russian-roulette every time you buy a bag of dope. You don’t know when you use it, whether or not it will kill you. The case has also united us all against this deadly drug. And the exhibit at the museum is perfect timing so we can keep the momentum going and show people, especially school children, the dangers of drug abuse.”

photo - Target America

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