It all starts with a thesis statement: Kokomo has lost the war on drugs.
It’s difficult to deny that things are no better today than they were a dozen years ago. The drug problem is definitely worse than when local law enforcement began attacking it in earnest 40 years ago. No matter the intensity of the effort, people continue abuse drugs -- from marijuana to methamphetamines and everything in between.
Our culture celebrates drug use through its entertainment media at the same time that it demands that users be locked away or denied public assistance. And the growing dependency of our society on pharmaceuticals as a maintenance medical tool helps blur the line between what is acceptable and what is not.
How did we get to this point? And how do we get past it? Did something go wrong? Was something missed? Sometimes it helps to retrace steps when looking for a solution.
Lynn Rudolph was the first Kokomo Police officer assigned to War on Drugs. In 1969, he was assigned to the task of “special investigations” -- a catch-all term that included gathing intelligence on drug use, racial unrest and anythig else that had the potential to fuel criminal activity.
“I got into drugs because (Chief) Ray Kellar sent me out to talk to a group of people,” said Rudolph. “He sent me because I knew how to spell marijuana. I had been keeping track of the talk on the streets. What drugs they were doing. I spent a lot of time doing that. I had been told who was doing what.
“I started knowing enough that we could start making cases. But the city wasn’t prepared to make any cases. Nobody had money to purchase information or drugs. It wasn’t even in the budget. I had a meeting with an informant who said I need to talk to some people. She introduced me to Rich
Worland, Kent Blacklidge and Mike Maher.
“They were young citizens and had the ability to get ahold of some money. I ran it all down to them but told them there wasn’t a lot we could do. That night, they came up with $1,500 and started a bank account -- the Coffee Pot Fund.”
From there, Rudolph started making cases as best he could. But drug enforcement isn’t a solo operation. There is far too much risk involved. He was joined shortly after launching the unit by Ralph Stroup, and later Charlie Hackett and Terry Wilson. Bob Sargent oversaw the operation and served as its analyst. The unit grew quickly.
Hackett was a fresh officer in 1969 -- just two years on the force -- when he became a juvenile officer. Almost simultaneously, he started with with the drug unit on his off hours. His association with the unit would continue until 1977.
“I began to see things -- men coming home from Vietnam brought with them drug problems,” said Hackett. “Prior to that, most of our drug problems were related to the musical world. Musicians were heavy into it. And that hasn’t changed a lot. With Vietnam, you could see when they came back they had dependency issues.
“It began to affect the lives of their families, and I would see it as a juvenile officer. But it was a cultural thing. No one was trying to make a lot of money on it yet.
You had the hippie syndrome. Pot. That culture drew the heavier drugs. The family was breaking, and drugs made it worse.”
“As time went on, it was obvious that juvenile crime was becoming just as much about drugs and adult crime. I worked afternoon shift. Lynn had been given the responsibility to run a drug unit. I worked the afternoon shift, but most of the drug activity took place in the evening and late night. I began working cases with Lynn after my shift. I was very interested in it. We made some arrests. We worked like that for two years -- from the beginning of 1969 to the end of 1970.”
It was around that time that federal money became available specifically for drug enforcement. The drug unit won a grant and became a truly multi-jurisdictional unit, covering 13 counties
“We got two police officers from Logansport, one from Peru, one from Wabash, one from the Nickel Plate railroad,” siad Rudolph. “We put a group together.”
“We had one from Frankfort; we had a working relationship with Marion; J.D. Beatty was one of the first ones to help us from the sheriff’s department,” added Hackett. “We could work other areas, slip officers into different communities, but you had to be careful because the dealers were mobile. You never knew where they’d show up.”
The unit quickly outgrew the police department’s confines on North Washington Street. It moved into the sixth floor of the Armstrong Landon building, starting in two rooms, and quickly expanded to the entire south side of the building.
But it was flawed from the start.
“We made a conscious decision when we started the drug unit that we weren’t going to arrest users,” said Rudolph. “Users were not our target. The people who sell were our targets. I don’t know if that was the best decision. A large number of users are dealers, too.”
“That posed a lot of problems because to get someone talking about the drug world, you’ll usually be talking to a user,” said Hackett. “The best pressure to bring a user around is to arrest them. Now you have to educate your department so you’re not making insignificant arrests. There weren’t a lot of people in Kokomo heavy into dealing. The dealing was going back to Texas or Chicago or Detroit. We even had a little situation where there was some coming through the air base.”
The answer for the drug unit was training and equipment. If the presence of law enforcement wasn’t enough, the war had to escalate. The drug unit obtaining technology that had been seen only in the military back in the early 1970s. Night-vision camera lenses. Portable recording devices and wire transmitters.
And the officers were sent to every school imaginable, from the FBI academy to pharmaceutical training at Indiana University and everything in between.
“Lynn sent us to some of the best schools,” said Hackett. “We were constantly updating ourselves on pharmaceuticals. What we were seeing then was quite a bit of speed, mostly prescribed or stolen. They had one called a ‘Black Beauty’ -- a real strong amphetamine that was hot on the market. We had a couple doctors in town distributing diet pills that were amphetamines. They were appetite suppressants, but they also cranked you up.”
The investment in the drug unit had a trickle down effect to the rest of the department, according to Rudolph. By the time he had put in a couple years in the unit, Chief Earle Howard was ready to expand this new philosophy to other areas. It was a decision that paid amazing dividends for the community, making it one of the safest in the nation.
“The drug unit did more to change the Kokomo Police Department than anything,” said Rudolph. “The detective division was a disappointment to Earle Howard, who was chief at the time. He needed someone ot manage the investigators. He wanted me to take over the detectives, too. I had anybody who wasn’t in uniform.
“I said, ‘Yeah I’ll do it if you move the detectives out of City Hall.’ They didn’t have anyplace for evidence or anything. We moved into the building where United Way is now. Everybody got a desk and a car. They got two secretaries. We moved the juvenile division over there.
“We had the manpower. We had the equipment. We had the facilities. We had everything to respond and be good, and we were good. I laugh today when they say we’re the 54th safest city in the nation. Hell, we were fourth back then.”
The drug unit also paid off well for its members. The majority of the early team became leaders. Rudolph, Sargent, Hackett, Stroup and Beatty became either police chief or sheriff. The same held true for drug unit officers from Logansport, Peru and Wabash.
“Drug units, traditionally, don’t do really well because it is a world so fraught with lying, cheating and corruption that when you’re in it for a long time, it can rub off on you if you ain’t careful,” said Rudolph. “Drug units don’t usually rise very high in the departments. A lot of people are jealous of them because they got to grow a beard and act the damn fool. They were footloose and fancy-free, and officers get jealous of that. But our drug unit then wasn’t corruptible. They were damn good.”
Go online this week to read more about some of the early operations of the drug task force. Then come back next week as we explore the next era of drug enforcement in Kokomo, leading up to the 2000 Drug Summit and beyond.
(Editor’s note: This is the first part of a multi-part series focused on the so-called War on Drugs and how it has played out in Kokomo since it began in 1969. Part of each weekly installment will appear in the Perspective print edition)
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