Joliet honors five police officers in war on drug dealers
February 13, 2013 10:54PM
Sgt. Phil Stice and the Joliet Police Honor Guard wait to post the colors as the Joliet Police Pipe and Drums kicks off the luncheon honoring the 2013 Police Officers of the Year presented by the Exchange Club of Joliet at the Jacob Henry Mansion in Joliet, Illinois, Tuesday, February 12, 2013. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 15, 2013 12:51PM
Five Joliet police officers were recognized for their efforts to target drug dealers over the last year.
Thomas Banas, Katelyn Miller, Brian Prochaska, Alan Vertin and Sgt. Jeremy Harrison were named Police Officers of the Year by the Exchange Club of Joliet Tuesday.
Along with Miller’s bloodhound, Ness, they make up the department’s narcotics unit.
“It really is humbling to be recognized by a group with a similar mission to ours ... making the community a better place to live,” Vertin said.
Banas previously was named 2003 Officer of the Year and Prochaska received the award for 2010.
Last year, the officers worked more than 3,000 manhours on “Operation Red Baron,” investigating drug traffickers in the Joliet area.
Since July 2011, the officers made more than 20 undercover drug deals at businesses, homes and public areas throughout the city.
By the time 10 men were taken into custody on federal charges in early January, police had seized nearly 17 pounds of heroin and seven pounds of cocaine.
“With people dying from a tenth of a gram of heroin every day, to get amounts like that means these officers are saving lives,” Chief Mike Trafton said.
Some $232,000 also was seized during the joint operation with the FBI, U.S. attorney’s office and the Metropolitan Area Narcotics Squad.
Seven of the suspects are from Joliet, while three men are from Cleveland, where police believe they resold the drugs they bought here.
Three weeks after those arrests were announced, 12 more men with connections to local street gangs were busted on state charges.
While the “middle managers” did not allegedly supply undercover officers with enough to pursue federal prosecution, police said the Will County state’s attorney’s office was happy to use the results of the investigation.
Using search warrants, police reportedly seized two more pounds of cocaine, four pounds of marijuana, three guns, steroids, hallucinogenic mushrooms, GHB (aka the “date rape drug”), five vehicles and $17,000.
“There are also pending seizures of houses and businesses from the investigation,” Trafton said.
Former FBI Agent and Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis told Exchange members local police officers provide the best intelligence to the bigger investigations.
“And when (the feds) started to ‘get’ that, it’s made everything better,” Weis said. “What happens in Chicago bleeds into the suburbs and these five officers are on the first line of defense.”
The narcotics officers were also presented Tuesday with commendations from the state senate,
state house, City of Joliet and FBI.