(Tribune) Some 20 cameras have been put into operation in the last several weeks along the Eisenhower Expressway on Chicago’s West Side in an attempt to crack down on drug trafficking — and the violence that comes with it — along what authorities have long called the “Heroin Highway.”
The announcement — by public safety officials at a news conference on an Eisenhower overpass — comes as federal, state, county and city law enforcement grapple with waves of overdoses caused by the powerful painkiller fentanyl mixed with heroin and other substances.
The cameras have been installed along about a seven-mile stretch of the Eisenhower — from downtown to Oak Park — due to the expressway’s notoriety as an access route for drug users from the suburbs and elsewhere to travel to the West Side for their fix.
“The homes and businesses near the Eisenhower Expressway have particularly suffered from the sale of illegal drugs to the point where the area has become known as the Heroin Highway,” Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told reporters on the overpass at Congress Parkway and Leavitt Street.
Officials said the cameras — equipped with license plate readers — will focus on vehicles whose owners are wanted for crimes primarily related to drug activity and the violence tied into it, not speeding motorists, Johnson said.
“To be perfectly honest, you look at this traffic out here today, I’m not sure that speeding is really an option on the Eisenhower,” he quipped Friday afternoon in reference to the bumper-to-bumper eastbound traffic.
But drug users traveling to the West Side on the Eisenhower will be targeted by the cameras as well, officials made clear.
The cameras are funded by the Chicago High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a federal agency that helps local police departments combat drug-related offenses, and operated by the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications.
Nick Roti, who heads Chicago HIDTA, said he hopes more cameras and license plate readers will be installed along the Eisenhower as well as other Chicago-area expressways.
A former Chicago police official, Roti suggested that the vast network of police surveillance cameras on the West Side may have created a “balloon effect,” causing some drug activity and violent crime to be pushed to spots along the expressway. But with the addition of the cameras along the Eisenhower, Roti expressed hope that would impact shootings in those areas.
“We’re not using these as like an overall kind of ‘Big Brother.’ We’re going to pick out individual cars on the expressway,” Roti said. “They’ll probably primarily be used during investigations to actually prove that someone went down on the highway as part of a drug investigation. And then obviously, the very important part of it is also the shootings … that go along with it.”
Chicago police have struggled over the years finding ways to combat the open-air drug markets on the West Side and their contribution to violent crime.
In 2017, police illustrated the link between violence and drug dealing by displaying maps at its headquarters with red dots for each shooting and blue dots for 911 calls of drug overdoses.
The West Side’s Harrison patrol district, among the most violent of the city’s 22 police districts, was littered with blue and red dots next to or on top of one another.
Complicating the challenge facing law enforcement is the re-emergence of the painkiller fentanyl — mixed with heroin and other drugs — leading to more overdoses, many of them fatal.
During one week in April, fentanyl was blamed for 17 overdoses on the West Side that resulted in four deaths.
In fall 2015, the powerful narcotic was suspected of playing a role in as many as 75 overdoses in a three-day span in the city. Before that, the last major outbreak involving fentanyl occurred in the mid-2000s in Chicago.
Roti warned Friday that users face increased risks because they may be buying drugs with greater amounts of fentanyl and mixed with other narcotics.
“Fentanyl is being mixed into types of different opiates and narcotics by drug traffickers with no rhyme or reason,” he said. “People with an opioid-use disorder have no idea what they are ingesting, and there is a high likelihood that fentanyl will be present in wildly varying percentages.”
To treat overdose victims on the spot, more Chicago police officers have been carrying Narcan, a brand name for naloxone that reverses the effects of opioids. Paramedics also distribute the medication.
Article Org: chicagotribune.com