Police say nuisance properties may be the biggest problem plaguing Peoria because they breed crime and drain police resources.
In an unconventional move two-years-ago, police parked an old brinks truck filled with cameras outside problem properties and crime dropped. They decided to make the experiment permanent.
“We named it the Armadillo because it kind of struck me as an armadillo, it had a hard shell, it was gray, it was ugly, seemed like a good name for it,” Peoria Police Chief Steve Settingsgaard.
He says it may have a funny name, but it is a successful, low-budget crime fighter.
“The fact that I can park a truck there and leave it there and I don’t have to commit an officer, it really is at no cost to us,” Seetingsgaard said.
The Armadillo has been cheap for the police department from the start. It purchased the retired armor truck from the Brinks Company for $1.
After a paint job and some decals the Armadillo has visited 60 properties since July 2008.
“In the area near the truck during that period, houses aren’t burglarized, drug trafficking stops, so I think real crimes are being prevented,” said Settingsgaard.
Additionally, he says about half of the truck’s targets have fled the neighborhood.
Its success is being noticed. The Armadillo landed in the Wall Street Journal and placed the department in the top 10 for the Webber Seavy Quality in Law Enforcement Award. Now dozens of communities across the country are making their own Armadillos.
The Peoria Police Department created the Nuisance Abatement Department and placed Officer Beth Hermacinski in charge of managing the Armadillo.
“I take complaints from officers, neighbors, city council members, anywhere,” said Officer Hermacinski, who adds the wait list for the Armadillo is at least a month. “People can request it by calling me or going online to the police website.”
In January, Peoria police had to layoff 11 officers to help the city balance its $14.5 million deficit. Once again, the police needed low budget solutions, like a second Armadillo.
“Our first truck we had to pay $1 for, our expense went up with the second truck, we had to pay $10, said Hermacinski.
Over the last six months, the police fortified the armor truck turning it into an Armadillo. They installed 10 surveillance cameras, dead bolted the hood, doors and gas tank so they can’t be opened, put foam inside all four tires so they can’t be deflated and installed wire mesh guards on the headlamps and tail lights so they can’t be broken out.
With the bodywork, paint and cameras, Hermacinski says the second armadillo cost about $10,000 total. She says $10,000 for a 24-hour pair of eyes is quite a deal.
“It is worth it because the patrol officers aren’t going to those houses anymore, they can focus on other problems,” she said.
In the fall the first Armadillo visited Dale Hanssen’s neighbors on North Flora Street.
“A few months ago a guy stood out here in the street and shot it up with 14 bullets. Then there’s just loud stuff at 11 or 12 at night, constant yelling and screaming,” said Dale Hanssen, who lives with his young son.
He says it solved the problem at that house, but on Tuesday the second Armadillo made its debut at another problem house on his street.
“We all know an Armadillo like this isn’t going to change to someone, but the point is, you’re not going to do it here. We aren’t going to tolerate that,” said Hanssen.
The police acknowledge the Armadillo can’t eliminate crime, but neighbors like Hanssen say it certainly helps deter it.