By Craig Hastings
“So what’s up with all the traffic stops here in Tuscola, Chief. It seems your cops have people pulled over all the time.” I’ve addressed this question more times in the last twelve months than I have in my last thirty-four years as Police Chief here in Tuscola I think. I’ve not instructed any of the officers to be any more aggressive now than I have in years past. Over my years here as Chief it’s been necessary to occasionally organize special traffic details but those have usually been due to special events in town or due to complaints of speeding in specific neighborhoods. Back in the late nineties and early two thousands crack cocaine use took the lead of the drug of choice in Tuscola. We identified a number of sources bringing crack cocaine into Tuscola and the residences that the cocaine was being distributed. Two of those sources were coming down from Chicago. On a smaller scale were our own locals driving to Champaign and bringing quantities back to town.
Because distribution relied heavily on vehicular transportation, we added our own K9 resource to the department and over the following nine years we were able to arrest and send most of the people responsible for bringing the larger quantities to Tuscola to prison. Those arrests included the two Chicago sources. Then things changed. Heroine and other opioid-based narcotics took over the illegal drug trade and use by storm. They were easier to buy, cheaper to buy, and at the time easy to get a legal prescription from your doctor. A visit to your doctor complaining of pain that over the counter pain relievers wouldn’t stop would usually get a person the now infamous “Vicodin” opioid-based pain reliever. We’ve learned over the past two years that the medical professionals were “misguided” as to how addictive these opioid-based pain relievers would become. So today America has tens of thousands of people addicted to opioid-based narcotics and many became addicted from the legal variants they were prescribed from surgeries and other real medical instances where they did need the medication but were probably allowed to continue it’s use too long.
Tuscola has had it’s own share of overdoses, deaths, and near death incidents due to the nationally recognized opioid epidemic. But, as I’ve seen over my forty years experience, things change. A new illegal drug of choice surfaced about two and half years ago and more recently has become a huge problem for police in Tuscola. The drug is methamphetamine “meth” and it’s the worst psychostimulant drug I’ve ever had to deal with. Worse yet, it’s cheap, the effects last longer than cocaine, and easily manufactured by readily available ingredients. It can keep a person awake for days at a time, make them hallucinate, and cause high levels of activity. Because it can be made at home, outside in a garage, in a motel room, and even in a moving vehicle, police are at a huge disadvantage.
So how do we manage to keep it’s use at bay at least in our own community? Our police officers are doing it by investigative traffic stops. There hasn’t been a single week pass in more than I can remember over the past twelve months that Tuscola police officers have not made numerous arrests for possession or use of methamphetamine. Our officers have recently confiscated handguns from those same vehicles where methamphetamine was discovered. We respond to many medical distress emergencies where methamphetamine has been overdosed. Vehicle pursuits are at an all time high here. But the worst effect of the drug can be hallucinations. We had an instance of a handgun fired into a wall because a person thought someone was trying to enter a house. Several instances of people trying to enter homes they had mistaken for another. And these instances happen late at night or during the early morning hours when most people are sleeping. These are dangerous situations for all parties involved including the meth user on a high.
So, my answer to the same question many of you have asked of me; your police officers are stopping as many suspicious vehicles as they can as long as they are able to establish probable cause to justify those stops. It puts these officers in extremely dangerous, high risk, situations. Their efforts are not going unnoticed either. I’ve been told more than once lately from those very people we deal with in the methamphetamine trade that Tuscola is not the place to be “holding”. We know we can’t stop the trade nor even make a dent in it’s use but, our goal is to keep it’s trade and use out of Tuscola so to avoid the aftermath of it’s side effects on the people that abuse it. Those of you that take notice, probably you’re going to continue to see reds and blues regularly on the streets and highways crisscrossing through Tuscola. Be thankful you have some ambitious officers willing to go after it. They could just as easily drive around all night making their lives much safer and surly a lot easier.