In an effort to curb juvenile heroin use and overdoses in St. Clair County, the Illinois State Crime Commission, a nonprofit organization, is partnering with St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly to offer a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone providing heroin to a juvenile in the county.
"Law enforcement is engaged in a constant struggle for evidence in these challenging heroin cases," Kelly said. "We have to reach out to great organizations like the Illinois State Crime Commission, appeal to a person's pocket book if not their conscience, and be willing to try anything to stem the tide of heroin."
In 2011, there were 94 drug overdose deaths in St. Clair County.
Jerry Elsner, executive director of the Crime Commission, said Kelly is "pulling out all the stops to protect the children of Southern Illinois." Elsner, 65, a father of five and grandfather of four, said he's been combating the spread of heroin since forming the commission in 1994.
He described Kelly as a "warrior state's attorney" who wants to go to war with drug dealers. "Brendan Kelly is willing to go to war with them. This isn't going to be easy," Elsner said. "We are going to have to win this war, or we are going to lose our children.
The Crime Commission began offering a $1,000 reward in juvenile heroin cases in DuPagee County last year. Since then, the reward program has expanded to several counties in Illinois.
"I've never misjudged the greed of the American people," Elsner said. "If we can offer $1,000 bounty on the head of a dealer, their customer could also be the person who puts them in prison. There's no loyalty here."
Elsner wouldn't disclose how many rewards have been given out since the program started. "We don't get into that," he said.
The reward money comes from donations to the Crime Commission, which is based in Oakbook, a suburb of Chicago in DuPage County.
The goal of the reward program is to get more heroin dealers off the streets, Elsner said, and save the lives of children.
"We are going to buy these people into jail by putting a price on their heads," he said. "We want to take them out. We want a war with the drug dealers. They are killing our children. They are murdering our children. They have to be handled as killers."
Tips regarding heroin being provided to juveniles in St. Clair County can be called in to 800-640-DIME or 618-346-3750.
The two law enforcement agencies partnering with Kelly and the Crime Commission will be the Illinois State Police Metropolitan Enforcement Group of Southwestern Illinois and the St. Clair County Sheriff's Drug Tactical Unit.
"We hope we can keep some of the kids out of the grave," Elsner said.
Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or firstname.lastname@example.org.