Officials have charged more than 50 individuals following a three-month long investigation into drug-dealing in East St. Louis.
The operation, called "Wild Wild East," was carried out by Illinois State Police. St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly said the defendants are at the middle tier in the drug trade, and were involved in dealing out heroin and cocaine.
58 charges ranged from delivery and armed violence to conspiracy. Kelly said the good news is that the arrests will have a serious impact on the area.
"Here's the bad news," Kelly said. "If you're at where these drug operations are occurring, this is in the middle of the day. This is in broad daylight. Day after day on the steps of churches, in schools, in public housing, where people live, where children are."
Kelly said that throughout the operation, which included around 100 hours of work, the state police encountered local police only once.
"There's a name for that, when you have a large community where the law simply isn't enforced, and there is no law," Kelly said. "And that's a failed state. And that's what we're talking about, and that's why this operation is so significant."
Kelly added that local police simply don't have the manpower or the training to combat the level of crime the area is experiencing.
"The law is not being enforced there, unless you have these types of special operations," Kelly said. "These local departments, either they don't respond or they can't respond -- and most of the times it's that they can't respond because they don't have enough police officers."
The East St. Louis Police Department has had to deal with massive layoffs in recent years. Calls to East St. Louis Mayor Alvin Parks have not been returned. But in an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Parks said:
“I’m not one to make excuses,” Parks said. “We can do better. Can our officers be more proactive in areas where they know there’s drug activity? Yes. But for East St. Louis, I would definitely not say we’re in a failed state. We’re in a state of challenges. We need more manpower, more equipment and more training for our officers.”
Wild Wild East was paid for by a $150,000 grant from the Justice Department. The officers have gone through about two-thirds of the budget and still have another year left to use the rest.
Follow Chris McDaniel on Twitter: @csmcdaniel