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Peoria City Council eyes options for penalizing youth through city ordinances, as auto crime task force funding is accepted

Tim Shelley

Peoria city staff will examine whether it can use city ordinances to bring additional penalties down on juvenile offenders.

The county saw the highest rate of auto-related crimes in the state per capita last year. Children as young as 11 or 12 years old have faced arrests in connection with vehicle thefts and carjackings in Peoria in recent months, often at the behest of adults who put them up to it.

The city council approved a $2.1 million grant to fund the first year of operations for a new Greater Peoria Auto Crimes Task Force, but some councilmembers believe more is needed.

Peoria Second District councilmember Chuck Grayeb said too often, juveniles charged with stealing cars or other crimes are released from custody without repercussions.

"We can't continue to let this happen this way. Our kids are for all practical purposes...and it doesn't take many to turn the community upside down. They're out of control. And all you got to do is look at the reports every morning," he said.

Peoria County State's Attorney Jodi Hoos said ultimately, it's up to the Illinois court system and the General Assembly to make changes to how juvenile detention cases are handled.

"We're bound to follow the law. And when we bring a case to the court, at the end of the day, if the court decides to release them, we can't go against that," she said.

"It's kind of out of our hands. It's very frustrating," said Peoria Police Chief Eric Echevarria. "Our officers continue to... they release, we arrest, they release, we arrest. We just continue to do that."

Grayeb suggested a delegation may need to go to Springfield to lobby for changes.

At-large councilmember Mike Vespa is an attorney and former public defender. He suggested the city could use its home rule powers to pass an ordinance to create an additional deterrent, which could include jail time of up to six months.

Hoos said enforcement of such an ordinance would ultimately be up to the city's corporation counsel, rather than her office. Peoria city manager Patrick Urich said he would bring the council a report back at its next meeting on what steps the city could take using its home rule authority.

First District Councilmember Denise Jackson said while she believes the task force is a good idea, she also thinks problems will persist until the city deals with the root causes of youth crime.

"Maybe we can come up with some sort of policy, whereby we can make sure that our youthful offenders are getting the help that they need. Because we all know if they don't, we'll continue this cycle well into adulthood," she said.

The Greater Peoria Auto Crimes Task Force is a collaboration between the Peoria Police Department, Peoria County Sheriff's Office, Peoria County State's Attorney's Office, and Illinois Secretary of State's Police. Hoos said she's hopeful the $2.1 million accepted Tuesday is the first installment of a four-year grant for the program.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.