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Airman Helps Fight War on Drugs

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  • By Story by Staff Sgt. Megan Shepherd
  • 179th Airlift Wing

The United States is in the midst of a devastating opioid epidemic. The misuse of and addiction to opioids is a serious national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare.

In 2017, Ohio had the second highest rate of drug overdose deaths involving opioids in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Ohio National Guard Counterdrug Task Force provides support to Law Enforcement Agencies and Community Based Organizations in order to enhance their efforts to counter the drug threat and anticipate, deter, and defeat the threat of illegal substances, trafficking and violence in Ohio.

One of the agencies they support is Cleveland’s Drug Enforcement Administration office.

The DEA is a federal law enforcement agency under the U.S. Department of Justice tasked with combating drug trafficking and distribution within the U.S. For over 40 years the DEA has been the federal government’s greatest weapon in the fight against the illegal drug trade.

Another area the Counterdrug Task Force supports is the Crime Strategies Unit at the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office.

“The CSU is committed to understanding the nature of the crimes facing our communities,” said Eleina Thomas, Managing Attorney of the CSU at the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office. “We are invested in identifying the crime drivers in each community.”

The mission of the CSU is to harness the collective resources of the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office to develop and implement intelligence-driven prosecution strategies that address crime issues and target priority offenders.

Through these partnerships, the Ohio National Guard directly supports criminal investigations connected to the illegal drug nexus.

Criminal analysis is one of the primary efforts that the Ohio National Guard Counterdrug Program uses to support the fight against drugs. Criminal analysts combine their unique civilian skills with the capabilities gained through their military service to help support the Counterdrug Task Force.

One analyst, Tech. Sgt. Michael Hilliard, operations intelligence specialist at the 179th Airlift Wing, Mansfield, Ohio, and criminal analyst with the Ohio National Guard Counterdrug Task Force, actually works part-time at both the Cleveland DEA office and the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office CSU.

“These agencies are already cooperating,” said Hilliard. “I just happen to have a foot in both worlds to help from both sides.”

There is definitely a connection between violent crime and drugs, said Thomas, so it has been beneficial having Hilliard at the prosecutor’s office.

“He’s been able to bridge the gap between our office, the DEA, as well as the local law enforcement narcotics units,” said Thomas. “He is able to look at our cases here and see what the connections are to current investigations. We’ve been able to suggest proffering certain individuals based on the information that Hilliard has discovered.”

He has also brought technology to the prosecutor’s office that has been beneficial.

“We’ve been doing some cellphone mapping,” said Thomas. “We didn’t have that before Hilliard was here. He has also brought his knowledge on mapping different crime patterns and trends so that we’ve been able to look at areas that are potentially causing issues with violent crime as well as drug interdiction.”

One of the strengths of the CSU is its intelligence driven proactive approach, said Andy Rogalski, an Assistant Prosecuting Attorney for the CSU.

“The traditional prosecutorial model is very reactive,” said Rogalski, “where a law enforcement agency does the investigation and then a prosecutor gets the case after the fact. However, the CSU works with law enforcement from the beginning to help figure out who is committing these crimes.”

Hilliard said he is able to help law enforcement, from the beginning, identify individuals responsible and directly see that impact.

“Everything from the initial, we think this person or phone is responsible, to identifying that person and actually locking them up,” said Hilliard. “That’s probably the best feeling, when you get someone off the streets that you know has been related to fatal and nonfatal overdoses.”

When dealing with these complex cases that involve an enormous amount of data and records, traditionally a prosecutor or a detective doesn’t have enough resources to look through thousands of pages of records, said Rogalski. That’s where Hilliard is able to come in and help.

“Our analyst has been able to help with sorting through that data, analyzing that data, and then turning that raw data into something that everyone can understand,” said Rogalski.

Whether it’s mapping out the locations of crimes or mapping out which towers a cell phone is hitting, it allows them to make more connections and really hammer in on who is committing these crimes, said Rogalski.

“If we’re able to analyze data to be more intelligent about who we’re prosecuting, we can have a greater impact on the community than the traditional method,” said Rogalski. “We’ve seen some successful results with the help of Hilliard. With his assistance, particularly with technology, we’ve been able to make an impact that we would not have been able to make 5 years ago, let alone 10 years ago, 20 years ago.”

Hilliard has been able to use his skills, both from the civilian and military, to be successful in this career.

Hilliard is from Northeast Ohio, so he has the privilege of working with counterdrug in an area where he grew up. He is trying to give back and contribute to the community.

“We have ways to help our community and citizens of the state beyond our one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer,” said Hilliard. “It’s not always about deploying somewhere else or hurricane and emergency response. This is an additional way that we can help the community.”


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