‘Trust that we’re going to do the right thing’: West Central Illinois Task Force deals with high-profile cases without fanfare

West Central Illinois Task Force

QUINCY — The West Central Illinois Task Force stays out of the public’s attention for most of the year.

Members are assigned to the task force by their respective law enforcement agencies. When on the job, they typically wear regular clothes instead of a uniform, and they typically drive an unmarked vehicle. (They don’t even like to get their photos taken for a story about the task force.)

However, when the task force makes news, it’s often quite a splash.

The task force reports many single arrests, but earlier this year, it made single-day arrests of 10 (twice) and another of 13. Another one-day narcotics investigation netted 26 people in September. The task force had six details in 2023 with approximately 80 arrests.

“It’s not a one-man job by any means,” said Patrick Hollensteiner, an inspector with the Quincy Police Department who is assigned to the West Central Illinois Task Force. “I think we had 30-some law enforcement officers who assisted us (on the 26-arrest detail). It takes weeks of planning to do, and we had help from the U.S. Marshals, the Illinois State Police, the (Adams County) Sheriff’s Department and the Quincy Police Department.”

Seth Knox, a master sergeant with the Illinois State Police, also is assigned to the task force, which was established in 1985 and is supervised by the Illinois State Police.

“We have local departments who joined the task force initially to fight narcotics,” Knox said. “Then that tied into firearms and gangs. Now human trafficking is another aspect.”

Anyone assigned to the task force spends most of their time working for the task force.

“Now, if a high-profile case comes in, such as a homicide, and (local law enforcement agencies) need help, then they pull our resources in to help there,” said Cody Cook, a sergeant with the Illinois State Police who also is assigned to the task force.

Other law enforcement agencies that have assigned someone to the task force are the Adams County Sheriff’s Department, the Pike County Sheriff’s Department, the Brown County Sheriff’s Department, the Macomb Police Department and the Canton (Ill.) Police Department.

“If something happens with one of our counties, and one of our member agencies needs extra resources, then if everyone’s available, we all go to that certain area and try to help out with whatever it is,” Knox said. 

Among the benefits of the task force are information sharing and savings of time.

“The information I get from the Quincy police guys, I can share with the county representative,” Hollensteiner said. “They may be getting information as well, or we might get something from Brown County. We all work out of one office, and it’s good to share information.”

“If you just wanted the Quincy Police Department or the Adams County Sheriff’s Department just to work on a drug case, and you consider the sheer amount of time it takes to start a case and develop a case and see it until the end, someone who’s working normal patrol will not have time to do that,” Cook said. “They’re going from call to call when they’re trying to do surveillance or maybe set up some sort of detail to target a drug dealer. They don’t have that time because maybe they’ve got to go over here for a domestic dispute or go to whatever call they may get for service.

“There’s just a devotion of time to these narcotics cases and guns and human trafficking cases that it takes, and it’s difficult to do when you’re on patrol.”

The time needed to investigate a particular case is easier when the task force has no other job duties.

“The task force is very proactive,” Knox said. “A certain type of officer is needed for a task force assignment, one who is proactive and can be self-initiated. People need to respond to different calls that officers are needed for, and there need to be troopers on the highway. Our focus is proactive drugs, guns and human trafficking cases.”

The attention-grabbing arrests of multiple people are the result of plenty of planning.

“You spend a lot of time before that day. I mean, weeks and weeks,” Knox said. “(Task force members) are digging into these guys and figuring out what’s going on and where they’re at. Then you have to have people come to town to help out. The (Adams County) jail might help out with a transport vehicle, so when we go from one residence to the next residence, it’s a well-oiled machine.”

“We know where these people live, where they’re staying, maybe what hotel they’re crashing at, that kind of stuff,” Cook said. “Some of these cases develop quickly, and some of them may take weeks to develop. The reason we build up to 26 cases is that one case may lead into another case, which leads into another. If we as a task force would do one case and arrest that guy, it may jeopardize or interfere with the next case. So we wait until we have all of our ducks in a row and all of our investigations done, and then we pick these people up.”

The task force doesn’t wait to line up a certain number of arrests before starting a detail.

“It might be seven or 26 … or just one,” Cook said. “We don’t say, ‘OK, we’ve got 15 cases. Let’s do the detail. When it happens, it happens, and we roll with it.”

Hollensteiner said it’s difficult to say how many people the task force is keeping tabs on.

“It’s just a revolving cycle,” he said. “Some of those people are on new details, or this may not have been the first detail a person has been one. For some, it’s their second or third.”

“Quincy is kind of the hub is where a lot of activities are, but there’s still plenty of activity in the other counties,” Knox said. “There’s no number we’re tracking. It’s undefined, but we’re never going to run out of work.”

Knox said many of their arrests come from tips gathered by anonymous sources, such as ones received through the Quincy Regional Crime Stoppers hotline.

“Those are awesome, because you never know what tip is going to lead to something, or if we’re already looking for X, Y and Z,” he said. “Sometimes a tip comes in, and we’re like, ‘Ooh, that puts the last piece of the puzzle together.’”

“You can submit anything (to the Crime Stoppers hotline) that is criminal related,” Hollensteiner said. “One person might give us drug Information. Maybe you have witnessed a battery happen? You can submit a tip on there for that.”

Cook said he believes the task force’s primary goal is to keep drugs off the streets and out of the hands of children.

“Drugs and narcotics have affected everything,” he said. “That’s why we go after the dealers. We’re going after the violence that comes with these dealers because they’re where there’s drugs and money and guns. That creates the violence.”

Hollensteiner and Knox ask the public for patience with the task force as it builds cases. 

“Some people call in at noon and want us to kick in the door at five,” Knox said. “If we have a case on that person already, then you’ve just provided more information for us. If this is the first time we’ve heard of somebody selling drugs at 123 Main Street, it’s going to take us a minute to get going on that. It can take days, weeks, months. Sometimes people want to see instant results, especially in this day and age of instant news or instant gratification. But we want a prosecutable case, the best one we can get. It takes a while to get them.”

“Just be persistent with us and patient with us and keep giving us information if you see it,” Hollensteiner said. “Just trust that we’re going to do the right thing.”

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