ROGERS PARK — A police operation seeking to snuff out drug dealing near the Howard Street Red Line station has resulted in 18 arrests, with more people sought for their involvement in the “blatant” drug market, officials said.
Operation End of the Line was put into action April 1 when officers with the narcotics division began arresting 18 people in connection to drug dealing along Howard Street, Rogers Park (24th) Police District Cmdr. Joseph Brennan said. The area’s alderwoman is now looking for more holistic ways to end drug dealing in the area and better support residents in need.
The operation targeting the drug market began in September, after drug activity and related violence spiked during the pandemic in Rogers Park and the Howard Street area, Brennan said. Dealers were stationed along Howard Street, working under the CTA viaduct, openly on the street or on nearby side streets, he said.
“When COVID struck, it opened up the opportunity for people to sell drugs,” Brennan said. “It was pretty blatant, pretty much wide open.”
People arrested in the operation were charged with delivery of a controlled substance, Brennan said. A few other people are still being sought for their connection to the local drug market. The arrests took place at people’s homes and other locations throughout the city, Brennan said.
The Police Department did not immediately answer additional questions about the operation.
The drug dealing was the source of “hundreds” of complaints in the past year, said Ald. Maria Hadden (49th). The “open air drug market” was one of the reasons Rogers Park saw an increase in gun violence last year, she said in a newsletter to community members.
Hadden said she forwarded those complaints to police, who said they were aware of the problem but did not disclose the operation until the arrests were made.
“Certainly over the last year, the number of calls and complaints has gone through the roof,” Hadden said in an interview. “I’m happy [police were] being thoughtful and strategic.”
Drug dealing is not a new activity along Howard Street, and it is likely to continue if other options are not presented for residents, said Walter Neal, a 30-year resident of the North of Howard area who just moved to Michigan.
“It’s more safe now than it’s ever been,” Neal said of Howard Street, where he stood Tuesday after getting off the train to visit family in the area.
Targeting drug dealing in one area won’t change the demand for drugs, Neal said. Arresting some drug dealers creates an opportunity for others to get involved in the trade, he said.
“You can’t just single out over here,” Neal said. “I was an addict. My habit was my habit. It had nothing to do with the area.”
Local police have an “enforcement plan” to keep drug dealers away from Howard Street, Brennan said. The plan includes increased police patrols in the area, the monitoring of police and CTA cameras in the vicinity and communication with the business community.
“We can help clean out the area,” Brennan said. “It’s the work between the Police Department and the community that’s going to keep it that way.”
Hadden said an extra police presence in the area is welcomed, but her office is also seeking to address the issue more holistically.
Hadden’s office has enlisted the help of groups like Communities Partnering 4 Peace, which conducts violence intervention and last year held a peace march through Rogers Park. The ward office has also launched its Block by Block initiative, which looks to create and empower block clubs to address problems in their areas. A community-led development initiative is also trying to bring to a vacant lot along Howard Street a project that boosts the community with economic opportunities.
“We haven’t just gone to police,” Hadden said. “A lot of this comes down to economic need. We want to really work with the community to help build up the Howard area.”
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