A recent uptick in violent crimes has left some Peoria residents questioning the community’s safety.
According to data released by Peoria Police, 32 shooting incidents have struck the River City this year as of June 4. That’s equivalent to 2016’s total, and is the second most shootings in the last 12 years over the same span.
A handful of those shootings, including one fatal incident, occurred over the past two weeks.
Peoria Police believe they may have pinpointed a potential cause of the violence – criminals are getting their hands on more illegal firearms.
“We have folks that are concealed carry and we are finding that a number of them, a higher percentage than normal, are being stolen out of their glove box and under the front seat,” said Peoria Police Chief Jerry Mitchell.
Mitchell says Peoria officers have seized 144 illegally owned guns in 2017. That’s 27 more than last year at this time and more than double the 71 seized in 2015 by June 4.
Mitchell says there is a small group of thieves stealing guns and likely selling them to a violent, local market. He says the guns usually originate in Peoria, not Chicago.
“Burglars typically don’t ransack an entire home,” Mitchell said. “They go to a place where they know there will be valuables or firearms. Burglars will typically do something for financial gain or have a habit they are trying to support. So then they turn around and sell the items that they steal.”
Police cannot confirm if the stolen guns have been used in the recent string of violent attacks. But they do believe with more guns on the streets, the violence has potential to seep into neighborhoods that are often safe.
“(Thieves) may have more mobility,” Mitchell said. “We are talking about the same people who regularly make bad choices.”
1470 and 100.3 WMBD recently interviewed long-time residents of Indiana Avenue and Underhill St. in Peoria, where recent shootings took place. Both said they had never seen such a violent crime on their neighborhoods.
When questioned why police are unable to keep repeat offenders off the street, Mitchell said police are trying to “operate between the parameters of what the law is.”
“We have to operate within the laws of the community,” Mitchell said. “Here’s an example, when we stop a car and there are four people inside…and a firearm is found in the car. That doesn’t necessarily mean someone is going to be charged with that. We have to at least show some type of ownership to it. But it makes it difficult when there are four people in the car.”
Mitchell says using advanced technology that tracks a gun’s ownership history has helped.
Mitchell believes there are witnesses to the recent crimes.
“The one piece we are missing is the information from the public,” Mitchell said. “A lot of people are witnessing a lot of these things. And whatever their reasons are we don’t get a reason.”
Greater Crime Stoppers President Jo Cramer-Spengler reflected a similar sentiment, saying no one has called with information on the string of recent crimes.
“Every call is totally anonymous,” Cramer-Spengler said. “With us raising the incentive to $5,000 on a gun homicide, it’s so strange nobody has called us.”
The public is urged to call Crime Stoppers (309-673-9000) and leave an anonymous tip with information about the recent shootings or other area crimes.