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updated: 8/9/2017 6:47 PM

Wheeling changes court process for ticketed offenders

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Wheeling residents ticketed for local ordinance violations such as public intoxication, theft or marijuana possession will no longer have to appear in Cook County court.

Under a new system unanimously approved by the village board Monday, people who are ticketed will pay fines online or appear at village hall for an administrative hearing. The new process, similar to what's used in other suburban communities, is intended to save taxpayer dollars, keep violators out of the courts and allow the village to keep money from assessed fines.

Police officers have had the option of arresting an offender or issuing a ticket for certain offenses, depending on the circumstances of the arrest. Previously, if the officer issued a ticket, the offender would appear at the Cook County courthouse in Rolling Meadows. The officer would also be required to attend the hearing as a witness.

But the new system allows ticketed offenders to pay a fine online or appear at a hearing in front of an administrative officer in the village. For the past decade, the village has had an administrative officer conducting hearings for administrative tow and red-light photo enforcement programs.

Now the administrative officer will hear cases in a setting similar to civil court, and the accused will be found "liable" or "not liable," as opposed to a finding of guilt. The police officer won't attend the hearing.

If the accused people want to challenge the administrative hearing officer's determination, they'll be able to appeal decisions and have a hearing before a judge in the county.

The idea is to keep police officers patrolling the streets rather than taking them away from the village or paying overtime costs to appear in court, Deputy Chief Todd Wolff said. For residents, the village wants the process to be less stressful, Wolff said.

"You had to take time off from work -- you had to go to court," Wolff said. "We're just giving them another option."

Additionally, Cook County and the village previously split revenue from the fines, with the county often keeping a majority, officials said. Now the village will keep all fine money.

Juvenile offenders will continue to be handled through the county system.

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