Riverside police filed criminal charges against 75 more people during the first six months of 2014 than they did in 2013 — an increase of almost 30 percent — and that number doesn’t include July and an unusually busy first week of August.
Of that number, felony bookings are up 93 percent, from 15 in the first six months of 2013 to 29 during that same period in 2014, according to Police Chief Thomas Weitzel.
And a good part of the reason for the increase in felony arrests, said Weitzel, is that there are simply more and more offenses that trigger felony investigation — the result of law-and-order legislation in Springfield.
“You rarely hear of a misdemeanor statute being enacted; they are felony statutes,” Weitzel told members of the Riverside Village Board during a presentation of 2014 crime trends at the board’s Aug. 7 meeting.
In a separate interview last week, Weitzel said he expects that trend to continue.
“That’s where Illinois is headed,” Weitzel told the Landmark. “They are passing more felony enhancements for what was once a misdemeanor. For example, if there’s a second offense [for certain crimes], it’s an automatic felony. I think there needs to be more thought to that.”
Weitzel pointed to drug possession crimes as an example where second offenses can lead to felony enhancement, even though the crimes aren’t violent in nature.
“If you have a drug offense for possession and then every crime thereafter needs to be enhanced, I do not subscribe to that at all,” Weitzel said.
But Riverside itself has contributed to felony enhancement laws. The Michael Gordon Law, which was enacted by the state in the wake of the death of a former Riverside police officer at the hands of a drunk driver, was the result of intense lobbying from Riverside police and other local police chiefs.
That law automatically upgraded a DUI offense to felony status if the driver also was uninsured and did not possess a valid license.
“With the Gordon Law at least you had to meet three requirements,” said Weitzel, who also said he’s in favor of felony enhancement for multiple DUI offenses.
“I think you should be putting the worst offenders in prison,” said Weitzel. “I’m not a fan of the lesser crimes [resulting in prison time].”
But misdemeanor arrests were up in Riverside as well. During the first six months of 2014, Riverside saw misdemeanor arrests climb 18 percent compared to 2013, while juvenile arrests rose by 45 percent.
Riverside police were busy in other areas as well. Traffic accident reports were up almost 32 percent from the first half of 2013. That number may rise by an even greater percentage by the end of the year, due to the number of accidents police have responded to in the First Avenue construction zone, which began in late June.
Along with the rise in traffic accidents, police also issued 147 more traffic citations during the first half of 2014 than in 2013. Police this year have stepped up traffic enforcement in the village, including intensive, targeted traffic enforcement near schools and on the more heavily trafficked streets of Riverside.
The only area where police activity waned during the first half of 2014 was in the issuance of parking tickets. Compared to 2013, the number of parking tickets issued in Riverside was down a total of 286, or 25 percent.