Peoria County Sheriff: Dozens of juveniles behind continued car thefts
State granting more than $2 million to city, county to fix problem
PEORIA (25News Now) - As multiple law enforcement agencies start pulling together a car theft task force, County Sheriff Chris Watkins said a large group of juveniles, some as young as 12, are often behind the thefts.
“It’s a core of 50 of them that are going out and doing this,” Watkins said. “They’re bringing more and more with them. We’re seeing it younger and younger, we’re seeing 12- and 13-year-olds in these cars and that’s scary.”
In May alone, more than 100 vehicle break-ins have been reported. That’s a nearly 60% increase from last year, law enforcement anticipates those crimes won’t slow down this summer.
It’s one of the “worst counties” in Illinois for car theft, says Peoria’s chief prosecutor, and the city council Tuesday night accepted help from the state government with millions of dollars in funds to help fight the problem.
The thefts aren’t just more frequent, but more violent too. Watkins said the department arrested four juveniles in relation to a car theft this week, one of them was armed. Perpetrators are smashing windows, carjacking at gunpoint, and going on high-speed joyrides with these stolen cars.
The council voted to accept a $2.1 million grant to have an auto crimes task force target the crime that often results in vandalism, the theft of catalytic converters, and other valuables.
The task force pulls together two Peoria Police detectives, two deputies, a prosecutor with the State’s Attorney’s office, and two officers from the Secretary of State’s office. They’ll focus specifically on car thefts. Watkins hopes they’ll be able to take a deeper dive and find who the ringleaders of the thefts are.
It will also clear the plates of other officers so they can focus on different crimes in the city.
The task force isn’t up and running yet. In the meantime, law enforcement is suggesting defense tools like car clubs, or getting a tracker to find your car after it’s stolen.
Council members heard State’s Attorney Jodi Hoos explain this could end up being a four-year grant worth upwards of $8 million to address an issue that Hoos says impacts everyone.
“This is, hopefully, a four-year grant. So, this $2.1 million, roughly, is just for the first year. So total it’s almost a $9 million dollar grant that we’re going to bring to the city,” said Hoos.
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