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Peoria seeks overhaul broadening mandatory detention for youth and adults in state's cashless bail system

Tim Shelley

The city of Peoria wants Illinois lawmakers to tighten the penalties for several types of offenses under the state's cashless bail reforms.

That includes pretrial mandatory detention for everyone charged with a Class 1, Class 2, and Class X felony — including minors. The proposed changes would affect both the SAFE-T Act and the Juvenile Court Act.

Peoria City Manager Patrick Urich said there are several felony charges that don't currently require mandatory detention.

"We've seen particularly with juveniles, that they're arrested and they're right back out in the street after being arrested. So we'd like to see more mandatory detention for certain crimes," Urich said.

The city also wants to see harsher penalties for certain felony charges. Possessing a firearm as a felon, motor vehicle theft, or possessing a stolen motor vehicle would become Class 1 felonies punishable by 4 to 15 years in prison if convicted. Fleeing and eluding police would become a Class 2 felony punishable by 3 to 7 years in prison if convicted, and vehicular hijacking would become a Class X felony. Those have a possible sentencing range of 6 to 30 years.

Urich said motor vehicle thefts in particular are a problem with juvenile offenders. A law enforcement task force was established last spring to combat vehicle-related crimes in Peoria and Peoria County.

"We just want to make sure that that we're giving the police the tools they need by giving the court system the tools they need to make sure that there's appropriate punishment in place," Urich said.

Peoria Police Chief Eric Echevarria said he doesn't want changes for targeting youth charged with minor crimes.

"We're really more concerned with those habitual offenders," said the chief. "And it's really a list of 40-50 juveniles who continue to, quite frankly, terrorize areas in our city, commit violent crimes, are arrested, and then released."

Echevarria said he also wants to empower parents and guardians to "have some accountability" and "give them the tools as well to be able to deal with the situation that's at hand that involves their minor children."

The chief didn't offer many details as to what that may actually look like at Friday's virtual legislative breakfast, but he mentioned there's been a lot of brainstorming happening between local law enforcement, school officials, and the Peoria County State's Attorney's Office.

Peoria City Council members have previously suggested a number of unorthodox ideas to address the city's youth crime: everything from holding parents legally liable for their child's actions, to using the city's home rule powers to work around the state's attorney's office and use ordinance violations to detain juveniles in detention for up to six months. Echevarria did say Friday that he's not necessarily advocating for a punitive approach towards the families of juveniles charged with crimes.

Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, was one of the architects of the cash bail reform bill. She urged a careful approach to making changes.

"If we want to have an opportunity to be successful, we're going to have to be thoughtful about how we do it, because we're talking about juveniles," she said.

The Peoria Democrat said any new changes should be well-crafted, because she doesn't want to keep revisiting the bill when there's other problems to deal with in Springfield.

"I think that most of us would probably agree that we all believe that there has to be a better way," Gordon-Booth said. "And we just look forward to working in partnership to figure out how we can create more opportunity, but also accountability as well, where it needs to be done."

The Illinois House returns to session next Tuesday, Jan. 16.

Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.