Police aim to annoy problem residents

Leslie Fark

Peoria Police Chief Steven Settingsgaard wants to annoy residents who are a nuisance to their neighbors.

"I want to (irritate) the drug dealers," he said Thursday. "I want to send a message: We're in charge. You're not."

Friday, the Police Department  deployed its first nuisance property surveillance vehicle as a new tactic to deter crime at a problematic property.

The vehicle, an old armored Brinks truck donated to the department years ago, was parked outside a house police deem a "chronic problem."

"The occupants of the house don't supervise their children and don't conform to standards of the neighborhood," Settingsgaard said. "Neighbors complain."

Adorned with large Peoria police decals and even larger gold lettering, which clearly explains to curious passersby the truck's purpose, the vehicle is the opposite of stealth.

Like its shell, the windows are bulletproof. Covering the headlights and taillights is a protective metal guard. The six tires have been stuffed solid with foam. Latched with locks are the hood and gas tank.

Tucked safely inside the truck's core are several cameras set up to record outside activity from all angles. The cost to outfit the truck is somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000.

Months of careful planning went into designing the truck, named "Armadillo" for its tough, impenetrable exterior. Police learned from a previous attempt to curb illegal activity at a nuisance property that a regular squad car was not the ideal vehicle to use to get their message across.

Last summer, officers parked a squad car outside a suspected drug dealer's home on Madison Avenue. The goal was to stop or at least put a crutch in the operation.

"Within 24 hours, all the windows were broken. Garbage was thrown in the back, and a broken bike frame was laying in the back seat," the chief said. "It was trashed."

Settingsgaard said the squad car, which was going to be traded in because it was dated and damaged, served its purpose.

"We got word through informants it was the drug dealer himself that trashed the car," he said. "It did what it was supposed to do. It irritated him. It got under his skin."

That reaction spurred Settingsgaard to respond with a "bigger, bolder statement." It was then he decided to utilize the armored truck.

"These folks that we're targeting irritate everyone living around them. They make a living driving their neighbors crazy," he said. "We hope we can drive them crazy."

The truck may be manned with an officer. Other times it won't. There could even be an officer watching the truck from afar, the chief said.

How long the truck visits a property depends on the people causing the disturbance. Where the truck is parked is driven by complaints, meaning it can be anywhere in the city.

"We want the neighbors to see the Police Department is responding to their complaints," said Settingsgaard in how he will measure the tactic's success. "Lastly, but not the least, is the target individuals are unhappy or give an indication that they're unhappy. I want them to be unhappy."

Leslie Fark can be reached at (309) 686-3188 or