Gun violence has impacted law enforcement efforts to investigate other matters in Bloomington-Normal, such as underage substance use. That’s according to a substance abuse prevention program which has secured a federal grant to reduce underage consumption.
Chestnut Health Systems of Bloomington announced on Wednesday it received $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help curb underage alcohol and marijuana use in Bloomington-Normal.
Some of that money will go to the Normal Police Department. Project Director Liz Hamilton is overseeing the grant for Chestnut. She said she's concerned efforts to further reduce underage consumption are threatened by officers needing to divert time on gun violence cases.
“Obviously addressing gun violence is very important, however we also know that substance use is shown to be directly related with juvenile crime,” Hamilton explained. “When our enforcement is charged with redirecting their efforts toward gun violence and they are not able to direct efforts to underage substance use, then we aren’t able to get that consistent message out to people that here are the rules and here are the consequences.”
Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner said the department's focus largely hasn't changed.
“We have the resources to address both issues,” Bleichner declared. “However, when you are looking at tax dollars a lot of times for overtime opportunities, if you have a choice you are certainly going to utilize those for the more serious-type offenses.”
Bleichner said the police department still conducts as many alcohol enforcement details as it's done in the past, but there are times when an officer's time gets diverted, thereby limiting routine patrols.
“If you have your focus shifted to another area, then some of those unintentional-type contacts that result in maybe arrests of ordinance violations for cannabis or (underage) alcohol (possession) aren’t occurring on that level,” Bleichner said.
Normal PD will be getting nearly $27,000 per year over the five years of the grant to pay officers' overtime for alcohol enforcement.
Bleichner said the department has seen a gradual decline in underage drinking violations, while underage possession for marijuana has been on the rise.
The department reports citations for cannabis possession rose 63% (241 to 392) from 2016 to 2018.
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