By EMMALEE C. TORISK
Ever since the police department put together a special-investigations unit team that focuses only on combating drug trafficking, patrolman Rob Vukovich hasn’t noticed much difference in the amount of traffic that belongs in the city.
But the amount of traffic that doesn’t belong? That’s a different story.
“A lot of problems are caused by people who don’t belong here — those who want to sell and buy drugs here,” said Vukovich, a patrolman with the Campbell Police Department and a member of its SIU team. “The SIU team has sent a clear message: If you don’t have lawful business in this city, keep out.”
From July to December, the SIU team — not the city’s police department as a whole — made 109 drug-related arrests, culminating in 227 drug-related charges and $26,488 in money seized during those drug arrests. Coupled with gun arrests, that amount increases by $14,470, to a total of $40,958.
In contrast, the three months prior to the implementation of the SIU team — from April 1 to June 30 — resulted in 24 drug-related arrests, 53 drug-related charges and $11,421 in money seized during drug arrests.
This seized money subsequently can be used by the police department for “pretty much anything except officer salaries,” said Sgt. John Rusnak, who heads the SIU team. He added that it’s often used for equipment purchases that help the department become more efficient and effective.
Rusnak also noted that the least amount of drug-related arrests in the six months of the SIU team’s existence came in July, which had 14 arrests. That number, however, is still higher than the largest amount of drug-related arrests in the three preceding months; in May, there were 12 arrests.
He called the difference simply “staggering,” and attributed it in part to “a proactive, aggressive attitude and philosophy,” ushered in by changes within the department, such as the appointment of a new police chief.
In addition, the SIU team is unique in that its four members — plus police-dog Storm, the fifth member — work outside the regular patrol schedule. As a result, they aren’t required to take any calls or write any traffic tickets, allowing them to focus solely on drug-related issues.
Rusnak explained that 90 percent of the SIU team’s time is spent observing traffic and making traffic stops, but emphasized that it is not a traffic team. Instead, the SIU team uses traffic as a tool to prevent crime, making a large amount of traffic stops to find criminals, drugs and illegal weapons.
The remaining 10 percent is spent talking to informants to determine where drugs are being sold, for example, or watching known drug houses for suspicious activity.
“When we first started, the majority of the cars we stopped had a warrant suspect, drugs, weapons,” Rusnak said. “But now, in six months’ time, we’re having a hard time finding them.”
“It’s a definite drop-off,” Vukovich added.
Both Rusnak and Vukovich noted that they’ve received numerous compliments from city residents regarding their efforts, with many commenting that they feel safer now in the city than they have in years.
The overwhelmingly positive response to the SIU team has led the police department to consider its expansion into a larger operation, and also to pursue various grants — including one that would fund the purchase of a fingerprint-identification tool, which could prevent a suspect from falsifying his identity.
“Generally, the people who take offense to proactive policing are the people who have something to lose,” Vukovich said. “It just makes the good residents safer.”