The Forest Park Police Department is hoping that a recent ordinance allowing small time retail theft and cannabis violations to be tried locally will bring more appropriate sentences for small time offenders as well as a reduction in paperwork for busy police officers.

Previously, these violations were handled at the Cook County Circuit Court in Maywood. “As busy as they are, they kind of frown on you bringing things that aren’t serious to them,” said Police Chief James Ryan.

Officers will be given the discretion to decide whether an individual will be tried by the village or the county. “If you’re dealing with a hardcore criminal who is shoplifting to support a drug habit or someone with multiple previous arrests, they should be charged criminally,” Ryan said.

Ryan said that in some less serious cases, violators must be arrested and processed but there is no need to put them through the hassle of a trial in Maywood. He used the example of a single mother who shoplifts diapers and other necessities while struggling to pay the bills.

Ryan said that trying such cases locally would result in more appropriate sentences and would allow fines to be paid to the village.

In addition, he said, the ordinance would create a reduction in paperwork for officers, allowing them to concentrate on law enforcement. “If you have very minor retail theft out of one of our stores, officers are tied up for 2 to 3 hours on paperwork typing up complaints…here they can just issue a ticket and get back on the streets,” he said.

He said that the ordinance would also make it easier for the village to prosecute juvenile offenders. In the past, police would have had to petition state juvenile courts to take the cases.

The ordinance will apply to people arrested for theft of items valued at $300 or less or possession of under 30 grams of marijuana or “cannabis paraphernalia.”

These amounts would constitute a misdemeanor if tried in county courts, but those tried locally will be charged only with a village ordinance violation. The village has the power to either fine violators or sentence them to community service.

Trials will be held on the first Wednesday of each month at village hall, with fines and community service sentences doled out by Judge Samuel Amirante.

Previously, the village court mostly handled traffic and parking violations, in addition to occasional cases of disorderly conduct and minor alcohol violations, according to Ryan.