EAST ST. LOUIS — Probationers beware: Compliance is the law and if you break the law, you will pay the price.
This was the message that 65 law enforcement officers from various parts of St. Clair County brought with them early Friday as they set out to make sure 85 probationers they were looking for were abiding by their curfews and not in possession of illegal drugs or weapons.
And some were caught violating the law as the police knew some would. But a total of 46 probationers were found to be compliant in what was dubbed Operation Shepherd.
By 5:15 p.m., St. Clair County Circuit Judge Heinz Rudolf had signed 10 petitions to revoke probation.
The St. Clair County Probation Department, which had 12 agents in the detail, issued 18 new probation violations. The officers made six drug arrests and seized six guns.
Officers used the red, 37-foot St. Clair County Mobile Command Unit, complete with police radios, computers, fax machines, video monitors and an interview room. The unit, which St. Clair County has had since 2010, sat on the parking lot of New Life Evangelistic Community Church at 1919 State St.
Inside the $40,000 vehicle, law enforcement personnel charted the targeted areas and monitored telephones and radios while eight teams of officers spread out in different ways to look for the people on their list.
St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly and Assistant State's Attorney Jon Allard were in the mix, too. Kelly said the special detail came about after he and other community leaders met with a targeted group of probationers who have violent and gun-related charges because "these are the folks who statistically speaking are likely to shoot or be shot."
The targeted probationers, mostly men, but a few women, were given what Kelly called a "carrot and a stick."
"They got to hear from mothers and other family members whose children were murdered. And, we showed them the statistics and talked to them about the impact that the violence is having on the community," Kelly said.
The probationers also were offered special services related to education and they were signed up for health care, he said.
"The stick part of the deal is, we can't monitor every probationer intensely, but we will be watching them closely. Today, we're here following up on the promise that we would be watching them," Kelly said.
As Kelly talked to a reporter, law enforcement officials were driving onto the parking lot with the probationers they found to be non-compliant. Some of them had been caught with marijuana, other illegal drugs and guns. They ranged in age from 19 to 50. However, a majority of the probationers were in their 20s.
Kelly said it's not just about locking them up, "It's about saving their and other individual's lives."
From one house to the next, the officers went, knocking on doors and asking for the individuals they came to check up on. Some were not at the residences where they were supposed to be and had not legally registered a change of address, which meant they were in violation of the terms of their probation.
This sweep was aimed at areas with high homicide rates such as East St. Louis, Washington Park, Brooklyn and Alorton. Kelly said East St. Louis alone has 400 probationers on the list.
Kelly said officers staffing Operation Shepherd came from across the region, including East St. Louis, Fairview Heights, Illinois State Police, Marissa, Mascoutah, Metro East Auto Theft Task Force, Metropolitan Enforcement Group of Southwestern Illinois, Millstadt, O'Fallon, St. Clair County Sheriff's Department, State's Attorney's office, Sauget, Southwestern Illinois College, Swansea, U.S. Attorney's office and U.S. Marshals Service.
Kelly said every community has a stake in making sure neighborhoods are as safe as possible.
"We're all in this together," Kelly said. "Just because an offender lives in East St. Louis or Alorton, doesn't mean he will only commit a crime there. The offenses that these probationers committed occurred in their neighborhoods and throughout St. Clair County."
Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.