New task force will crack down on Peoria-area auto crimes, including carjackings and thefts
A newly-created law enforcement task force is planning to crack down on a growing spate of vehicle-related crimes in the Peoria area.
Peoria County had 622 reported auto thefts last year. That's up from 180 in 2015. The trend is by no means unique to Peoria County, but it's particularly pronounced here, said Peoria County State's Attorney Jodi Hoos.
"Peoria County had the fifth highest rate of auto related crimes in the state last year. Per capita, we were the highest," she said.
Peoria Police Chief Eric Echevarria said since 2021, there have been 35 aggravated vehicle hijackings, 10 vehicular hijackings, and 2,005 vehicle thefts. In the first three months of this year, he said 293 vehicles have been stolen.
The Greater Peoria Auto Crimes Task Force is funded through a $2.1 million grant awarded through Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias' office. It's a partnership between the Peoria Police Department, Peoria County Sheriff's Office, Peoria County State's Attorney's Office, and the Illinois Secretary of State Police.
Hoos said vehicle thefts don't happen in a vacuum.
"Those stolen vehicles are then often used to commit even more violent offenses such as armed robberies and burglaries," she said.
Peoria County Sheriff Chris Watkins said the task force will identify "high-risk areas" and develop strategies to reduce the likelihood of auto-related crimes. He said there's also a collaborative focus on investigation and prosecution.
Children as young as age 11 or 12 have faced arrest in connection with vehicle thefts and carjackings in recent months in Peoria. Hoos said the task force will provide the tools to get to the root of that problem.
"What we find is there are adults that are putting these younger offenders up to it, and that's who we need to tackle. And I think, you know, when we don't have a designated law enforcement part of this, either prosecution or police, we just don't have the resources to go after those as we would like to," she said. "But that's what this taskforce is going to have the resources to do that."
State Rep. Ryan Spain (R-Peoria) applauded the creation of the task force.
"The theft of vehicles has become a major issue in our community. It was a few years ago, I woke up in the morning and found a stolen vehicle that had been driven into my backyard. And that vehicle is not only stolen, but contained stolen property from another victim. And so these types of crimes create a ripple effect that we're here to put a stop to," Spain said.
Statewide, vehicle thefts rose from 28,557 in 2021 to 40,505 in 2022, per National Insurance Crime Bureau statistics. The Greater Peoria task force is one of six to receive funding through the Illinois Secretary of State's Office.