Stopping heroin: Local authorities give their advice

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Frank Schultz
November 12, 2014

The illegal drug that is of most concern in Rock and Walworth counties is also on the mind of Brad Schimel, who will take over as the state's attorney general in January.

Schimel says his top priority as the state's top cop is to fight heroin, and that's a comfort to local law enforcement officials, who say they need the help.

The Gazette on Tuesday asked some local law enforcement professionals what they would advise Schimel to do.

Heroin is flooding the area, said Rock County District Attorney David O'Leary, and it's at the root of a large proportion of the crime his office prosecutes.

“The ready supply of it is incredible,” O'Leary said.

It's so easy to get, and its cost is so low, it has pushed crack cocaine out of the market, he said.

O'Leary said Schimel has heard the discussion many times because O'Leary sits with Schimel on the board of the Wisconsin District Attorneys Association.

Schimel is the Waukesha County district attorney.

O'Leary said law enforcement has done its job by flooding jails and prisons with heroin offenders, but there is no drug treatment for their addictions while incarcerated.

“The state has been unwilling recently to spend money on treatment. So we can lock up the addicts, but when they get out, they still have their addiction issues,” O'Leary said.

“We need to do a better job at making sure they are ready to return to the community and pose less of a risk than when they went in,” O'Leary said.

“Waiting until they're released into the community is, in my opinion, too late,” O'Leary said.

That will cost money, but not as much as the costs of the heroin-related crime, O'Leary said.

“They will do anything to continue to supply their habits—steal from family, friends, do whatever it takes to get that next high,” O'Leary said.

Calling for locking up offenders is a great way to get elected, but treatment is less expensive than prison, O'Leary said, so what's needed is a mix of punishment and treatment.

Next door in Walworth County, District Attorney Dan Necci said he would defer to Schimel, but he thinks everyone in law enforcement would agree that a coordinated statewide enforcement effort would help.

The number of arrests for heroin delivery in Walworth County jumped from 17 in 2010 to 46 in 2013, according to county data.

Focus the resources of the state Division of Criminal Investigations on the heroin plague statewide, Necci said, and organize the fight at the state level.

Necci said his top priority is heroin, too. He agreed addictions and ignorance about the drug also should be addressed.

Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore said Schimel knows what he is doing and has been successful in prosecuting heroin cases.

Moore said his own plan would include the problem of how addiction to prescription painkillers leads to the cheaper and more readily available heroin, and how treatment makes a difference.

“It's expensive,” Moore said of treatment, “but it's also expensive to have these heroin addicts out in our communities and needing $20,000 to $30,000 a year to support their heroin addictions, and when you're addicted to heroin, you're not out working. You're out stealing from our retails stores, from our cars, from our houses, and it really affects our entire community.

“It drives our crime rate here locally, and it drives the crime rate all across the nation,” Moore said.

Local enforcement is not likely to stop the flow of heroin, but addicts tend to seek help when they hit bottom, and often hitting bottom involves an arrest, Moore said.

Capt. Jude Maurer of the Rock County Sheriff's Office said that with heroin in ready supply, the state needs a coordinated approach to how addicts are dealt with in court and for treatment once they enter the court system.

Maurer also would increase education about the power of heroin to addict a person, and he would ask for more state money to support law enforcement efforts to squeeze the heroin pipelines into Wisconsin.

Maurer noted that one of those pipelines is the Interstate highways leading north from Chicago and Rockford, Illinois.

Maurer said he would ask Schimel to look for a way to coordinate with the federal and other state governments to stop the flow of heroin into this country, to stop the problem at its source in Latin America.

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