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PEORIA, Ill. -- This industrial city, hard hit by the recession, has found a new, low-budget way to fight crime: Park an unmanned, former Brink's truck bristling with video cameras in front of the dwellings of troublemakers.

Police here call it the Armadillo. They say it has restored quiet to some formerly rowdy streets. Neighbors' calls for help have dropped sharply. About half of the truck's targets have fled the neighborhood.

"The truck is meant to be obnoxious and to cause shame," says Peoria Police Chief Steven Settingsgaard.

The Armadillo has helped alleviate problems like drug dealing that can make neighborhoods unlivable.

An Armored Truck Gets Tough On Crime
3:07
Police in Peoria, Ill., have a new weapon in the war on drugs and nuisance complaints. It's a 12,000 pound Brinks truck full of video cameras, affectionately known as the Armadillo.
Police got a call at 2:30 one morning from Mary Smith, a 58-year-old computer operator at a Butternut Bread Bakery. Fighting back tears, she asked for relief from her neighbors' incessant yelling.

She and her husband, Terry, 61, a Butternut baker, have lived in their home on North Wisconsin Avenue for 30 years, and have seen the neighborhood fall into drug trafficking. The police suggested using the Armadillo.

That weekend, the truck pulled up to the offending neighbor's house. A police officer knocked on the door and told the residents a nuisance report had been filed. Within 24 hours, the Smiths say, the house was quiet. The occupants moved out soon thereafter.

"The difference was like night and day," Mrs. Smith says. The landlord, Phil Schertz, credits the Armadillo.

"The ugliness of the Armadillo is what makes it unique," says Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police. "A police car is not a particular stigma, but if people see that thing in front of your house, they know something bad is going on in there."

Peoria police acknowledge that the truck sometimes just shifts crime from one area to another. But it can disrupt illegal activities temporarily. Citizens appear to like the idea, and police say they have a four-week waiting list of requests for the Armadillo.

Peoria is a city of 114,000 about 170 miles southwest of Chicago. Amid layoffs at equipment giant Caterpillar Inc. and other companies, the city's unemployment rate has jumped to 10%, from about 6% a year ago. Crime has increased as the economy has declined, police say.

The biggest problem, as Peoria police see it, is drug trafficking that plagues pockets of the city marked by boarded windows, littered lawns and noise complaints.

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Elizabeth Hermacinski

The 'Armadillo,' a former Brink's truck with video cameras patrolling Peoria.
In the summer of 2006, police were brainstorming ways to rattle a suspected drug dealer. They had exhausted traditional strategies, including undercover operations, and were left empty-handed and frustrated. They decided to park a retired police car in front of the suspect's house.

About 24 hours after the car had been put in place, all its windows had been smashed, the tires were flat and the body was dented.

"It was embarrassing to tow a police car," Chief Settingsgaard says. "But I saw it as a success because it was proof how much [the dealer] really disliked the police car's presence."

The dealer left the neighborhood soon after the incident; he was later arrested and convicted on a gun charge.

One summer night, Chief Settingsgaard was pulling out of police headquarters when he did a double take. Rusting in a corner of the police parking lot was a hulking Brink's truck. It had been purchased -- for a dollar -- to use in emergencies but had yet to be pressed into service. The chief thought it could be the perfect nuisance-deterrence vehicle, seemingly indestructible and inarguably an eyesore.

Over the next year, the 12,000 pounds of heavy metal got an extensive makeover, including about $10,000 in new equipment and repairs. It was outfitted with five infrared surveillance cameras, a padlocked hood, a locked gas cap, and protective screens over the head and tail lights.

A Peoria tire company installed foam-filled tires that can't go flat. Decals that say "PEORIA POLICE Nuisance Property Surveillance Vehicle" were pasted on all four sides of the white truck.

There were some bumps along the road. When Officer Elizabeth Hermacinski, 39, the force's nuisance-abatement officer and Armadillo driver, took the behemoth out for its first deployment in July 2008, the targeted troublemakers seemed to have gotten wind of the plan. In any case, they had parked cars in every available spot in front of the house.

So Ms. Hermacinski parked across the street, close enough to get the message across. "It's psychological warfare," she says.

The Armadillo is the opposite of an undercover operation. Its goal isn't making arrests, but alerting suspects that police are on to them, police say. The surveillance footage is rarely reviewed by the police and is saved for just a short time before it is erased. Still, the unit can have a significant impact.

This past July, Maggie Wren, 50, requested that the Armadillo pay a visit to her home. Police say her adult children and grandchildren were loitering on her front porch and leaving empty beer bottles in her yard. "Every time I wake up, there's something broken on my fence," she says.

Police parked the truck outside her house while she went away on vacation. Police say the porch remained quiet and empty while she was gone.

One recent afternoon, Officer Hermacinski was moving the Armadillo to a new spot. "It drives like a tractor," she said, yelling in order to be heard over the engine's roar.

She pulled the Armadillo to the curb of a white, one-story house with red siding suspected of being a drug house. She flipped on the surveillance cameras, hopped down from the truck and knocked on the door of the house. No one answered. Then she walked over to a waiting police cruiser, got in and drove away, leaving the Armadillo to do its job.
Instead of actually doing your job and arresting drug dealers,just let them know your on to them so they will be ashamed ,relocate and keep selling drugs.I don't know of too many criminals that are capable or could care less what people think.It's Illinois what else would you expect
 

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Was this funded by a grant from the drug dealers? Sounds like the cops tip their hand every time they park the truck.

I remember reading a story some time ago about a town that attempted to deter speeders by parking a police car with a mannequin dressed like a cop. When they came back to retrieve the car they discovered someone had broken into the police car and sat a blow up doll beside the mannequin. Some stuff you just can't make up.
 

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So, it's effective on the surface but meant to cause shame. And this is the police's job? I see a lawsuit over civil rights coming.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Was this funded by a grant from the drug dealers? Sounds like the cops tip their hand every time they park the truck.

I remember reading a story some time ago about a town that attempted to deter speeders by parking a police car with a mannequin dressed like a cop. When they came back to retrieve the car they discovered someone had broken into the police car and sat a blow up doll beside the mannequin. Some stuff you just can't make up.
I think I knew that doll ,she had a bad reputation
 

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The behavior being suppressed is not binary, like shooting someone. Parking that truck someplace cuts down on the casual users that purchase that day/week and nuisance crimes like loud parties, drunks and druggies relieving themselves on the roses and leaving litter.

I have no problem with the truck at all. The spokesman should have kept his mouth shut about "shaming", though.

(I was surprised no one stole the thing, or stripped it.)
 

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I'm trying hard to understand why this is bad........and honestly, I'm just not coming up with anything.

I'm willing to listen though.......
 

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I'm trying hard to understand why this is bad........and honestly, I'm just not coming up with anything.

I'm willing to listen though.......
I agree,.. When reading the story I was like,.. "It did help the neighbors?" What's wrong with that? Great if you can catch them red handed, but that stuff takes time because of the do-gooders and what we call rights,.. The police cannot just bust down the door and arrest everyone,. Even if they do, they will get let out because the jails are to full because we don't zap or put people that need the firing squad on it..

BUT... As David said, I'm willing to listen to what the bad is.. :)
 

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Controlling nuisances like noise is fine, but if they have enough evidence to put the truck in front of a drug house, they should have enough to bust the place. While they may be out after awhile, they'll be in the system one more time. With the Armadillo the problem is just transferred to someone else at the criminal's convenience. Announcing that any evidence collected is destroyed soon after collection w/o anyone reviewing it is just plain stupid and a waste of the resources used to obtain and set up the surveillance equipment.

How would you feel if your employees weren't doing the job they were paid to do? In this case, the police are paid to arrest the drug dealers and they are shirking that responsibility. What happens in the court system is another discussion.
 

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Controlling nuisances like noise is fine, but if they have enough evidence to put the truck in front of a drug house, they should have enough to bust the place. While they may be out after awhile, they'll be in the system one more time. With the Armadillo the problem is just transferred to someone else at the criminal's convenience. Announcing that any evidence collected is destroyed soon after collection w/o anyone reviewing it is just plain stupid and a waste of the resources used to obtain and set up the surveillance equipment.

How would you feel if your employees weren't doing the job they were paid to do? In this case, the police are paid to arrest the drug dealers and they are shirking that responsibility. What happens in the court system is another discussion.
+1

Exactly. If there was is a crime, arrest the person. If there is enough evidence, prosecute them. This vehicle is being parked in front of houses based on suspicion. How long before people with a grudge against a neighbor start making accusations to get this parked in front of their house? Given the nature of people, I'll bet it has already happened.
 

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I'm trying hard to understand why this is bad........and honestly, I'm just not coming up with anything........

I agree. I think the idea is very clever and "absolutely brilliant"!

There are way too many incorrigible knuckleheads out there and this seems like a terrific way to deal with some of them. It's non-threatening and non-confrontational. I love this idea.

I just wish we had a pic....

EDIT: found a pic-


Wall Street Journal article - Cops Use Old Brink's Truck to Shame Suspects - WSJ.com

-
 

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I'm trying hard to understand why this is bad........and honestly, I'm just not coming up with anything.

I'm willing to listen though.......
I agree as well,
The people in these neighborhoods this helps seem to like it.
Anything you can do to make a criminals day bad is a good thing.
 

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Cops left a broke down cruiser out to slow cars down. One day decoy car, next day real car.
A few weeks of this and sure enough car gets broken in to. Uniform and badge were stolen.

Cops release statement: Be on the look out for suspicious person wearing police uniform and badge.
 

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So, it's effective on the surface but meant to cause shame. And this is the police's job?
It's meant to reduce the activity, of course ... not to "cause" shame per se. By the accounts, it's reasonably successful at that.

Of course, the tradeoff is reduction in privacy, with cameras around. Still, this is the thing that advocates point to, isn't it?, a reduction in crime via people knowing they're being watched. If this could be done without violation of the privacy of non-criminals (and without brazen p.hacks abusing the new tool), then I can't imagine disapproving. As it stands, it's like anything else: risk of abuse by the revenue- or politically-minded, with some reduction in crime. In that community, though, it looks like they feel they've made a good choice.
 

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I have doubts it actually reduced activity, it probably just "moved" the activity to a different area.
The neighbors in that neighborhood might have something to say, on that score. Though, you're almost certainly correct. It's not as though the local heroine addicts failed to get a fix. They found a way ... and someone helped them acquire it, somewhere. Just, not in that neighborhood that day.
 
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