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Troubled Illinois town bids not-so-fond farewell to cops

Glad to see ’em go.

That was the reaction of many residents of the impoverished town of Ford Heights, Ill., following the news that six current and former police officers had been indicted by Federal authorities for allegedly taking bribes to look the other way as more than 20 drug dealers set up shop in the locality about 30 miles south of Chicago.

“This should have happened a long time ago,” said Renee Jackson, a 16-year-old mother of a 2-year-old boy. “The gangs ran free. When they got to shooting, you couldn’t let your kids outside.”

Another resident, Marilyn Thompson, said she was puzzled as to why police never responded when she called to report a 20-minute shoot-out clash that she had witnessed four years ago between two gangs of armed youths. “They didn’t hardly respond to anything, and now you know why,” Thompson told The Chicago Tribune, after news of the indictments spread around town.

 “I don’t care if they were only making $5 an hour,” said Cliff Franklin, 63, a retired factory worker. “That doesn’t give you the right to break the law.”

The indictments, which were announced by U.S. Attorney James B. Burns in early October, charge that officers had taken “tens of thousands of dollars” from drug dealers since 1988. “These officers sold their shields,” Burns said.

Named in the indictments were former acting Police Chief Jack Davis, 58, who was arrested in July and is in custody in Chicago; Vincent Taran Hunter, 42; Odell Boxley, 49; Keith Jones, 37; Dale Jones, 32, and Kerwin Hall, 38.

Prosecutors charged that one or more of the officers had tipped off the drug dealers about the presence of other law enforcement agencies and had promised to fix cases against drug dealers. They allegedly interfered with drug sales by rival gangs that did not pay bribes.

The indictments decimated the town’s poorly paid police force, where officers with the most seniority earned only $10 an hour. With only three officers left in the department, Illinois State Police troopers and Cook County sheriff’s deputies were ordered in to patrol the city.

Cook County authorities took part in a series of raids in August that resulted in the arrests of more than 150 drug suspects. County Sheriff Michael Sheehan likened the torn streets of the city, one of the nation’s poorest municipalities, to “drive-through drug stores” where cocaine, crack and heroin were readily available.

Residents of the town of 5,000, which had changed its name from East Chicago Heights a few years ago in a bid to give the beleaguered community a fresh start, said they were relieved to see a beefed-up law enforcement presence on the streets. “I love it,” said Thompson. “I see them and I say, ‘Hey!’ and honk my horn. It’s bad out there.”

Thompson’s positive reaction to the troopers and deputies is typical, said Sgt. John McQuinn of the sheriff’s gang and narcotics unit. “A lot of the folks are real positive,” he told The Tribune. “They said, ‘It’s good to see some help.’”

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Published in Law Enforcement News
Dec. 15, 1996.
© 1996, LEN Inc.