Chicago police detectives begin training to investigate drug deaths as possible homicides
“Locking up a drug dealer will not bring my daughter Sydney back,” a retired cop told detectives Monday. “But I am confident that our efforts will save the lives of others.”
Chicago police detectives are undergoing new training on how to build homicide cases against people who supply drugs to overdose victims.
Byron Boston, a former Dallas police investigator, is showing them how to use autopsy reports and digital evidence to do that, according to a department memo.
In the past, the Chicago Police Department rarely pursued drug-induced homicide charges, even as police and prosecutors in the collar counties have been far more aggressive in filing such cases.
That had prompted criticism from some victims’ families.
But last year Brendan Deenihan, the department’s chief of detectives, made such investigations a priority. He created a six-page policy that says, in part: “Drug-induced homicide incidents are serious crimes, not only against the victim but also to the decedent/victim’s family, loved ones and the entire community.”
Also, an Illinois law that took effect Jan. 1 now bars prosecutors from charging people with drug-induced homicide if they call 911 after a companion overdoses. The law was intended to encourage people to stay with overdose victims and get help for them rather than run away for fear of going to jail.
Deenihan said the new training for detectives won’t necessarily result in a big jump in drug-induced homicide cases.
“I don’t think we’ll see a ton of them,” he said. “The hardest part to prove is which dealers supplied the specific narcotic that caused the death. These are extremely complex investigations with very little information. They’re difficult to prove in a court of law.”
By the end of January, the Cook County medical examiner’s office had confirmed there were 1,602 opioid-related deaths countywide last year. With 717 cases still pending, the office estimated the final tally for 2021 will surpass 2,100, most of those in Chicago.
In addition to the training for veteran detectives, members of a class of about 100 new Chicago detectives heard Monday from the mothers of two victims of fatal overdoses.
Terry Almanza, a retired Chicago police officer, spoke about losing her daughter to an overdose in 2015 and repeatedly begging police and prosecutors to charge the supplier with drug-induced homicide. The next year, a man was charged with the crime and, in 2018, was sentenced to six years in prison.
“Locking up a drug dealer will not bring my daughter Sydney back,” Almanza told the new detectives. “But I am confident that our efforts will save the lives of others.”