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Thursday, May 6, 2004 10:53 am

Spring cleaning

Last July, just after Don Kliment had been appointed police chief, he was invited to the fellowship hall of an East Side church for a Saturday morning meeting of Unity for Our Community. One question the members had for Kliment was why it takes Springfield Police Department so long to shut down a known drug house.

Kliment answered in his characteristically blunt style: "Because there's so many of them, to be quite honest," he said, promising to beef up the narcotics division "as soon as I can find some bodies."

He hasn't found the bodies yet, but the handful of officers assigned to the drug unit have shut down -- at least temporarily -- several dozen drug houses since Kliment took over. This week, Sangamon County State's Attorney John Schmidt announced indictment of 37 men and three women arrested by SPD in a months-long operation dubbed Sudden Impact II.

In addition, five juveniles were indicted, two of whom will be charged as adults. One of those is the same 16-year-old boy who was shot in the leg last month near Iles Elementary School.

Another dealer who unknowingly sold drugs to undercover police turned out to be just 13 years old. Officials declined to charge him after he entered a rehab program.

Most of the undercover buys involved crack cocaine. Five involved cannabis, and three involved "lookalike" substances. Almost all the buys were made within 1,000 feet of a school, church or public park, automatically qualifying the drug deals as felonies and carrying mandatory prison sentences.

Eleven buys were made near Feitshans-Edison Magnet School, six near Washington Middle School, six near Enos Park, and four each near St. Patrick's School, Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, and Key of David Ministries Christian Church, according to police sources.

In a press conference announcing the results of the sweep, Kliment said the indictments wouldn't have been possible without the help of the Illinois State Police crime lab, which made the cases a priority.

A similar operation last summer, Sudden Impact I, has so far resulted in 33 people being sentenced to a collective total of 250 years in prison. Schmidt said while the success of these operations is significant, it's still just "a dent" in the drug problem.

"Not to tip our hand, but there may be a Sudden Impact III," he said.

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