Law enforcement officials say an anti-gang violence initiative has helped lower crime numbers in Peoria, but the battle continues to rage on.
The "Don't Shoot" program is now taking the call for a cease-fire on the streets directly to the people responsible for gunplay in Peoria. In the past, the program has featured call-ins, in which known gang members are rounded up and talked to about the damage their actions have done to the community. Now, police are seeking out and chatting with the most violent offenders in the city one-on-one.
"We'll talk to them at their house," Peoria Police Captain Mike Eddlemon said at a news conference Monday. "Talk about their exposure, the court cases that are hanging over them."
Police also go over details of the offenders' parole and probation terms in the so-called "individual call-ins" to give them a frank warning of what it will mean if they don't abide by the law.
"If they fail to heed that warning, then they face the consequences," said State's Attorney Jerry Brady.
About a dozen criminals have been targeted for the individual call-ins. Brady says in one case, an offender who didn't listen to the warning was slapped with a higher bond the next time he appeared before a judge.
The community aspect of "Don't Shoot" is also ramping up. Peoria Community Against Violence, or PCAV, is made up of residents who come together to make it clear that gang activity will not be tolerated in the city's neighborhoods. The basic framework of the PCAV is in place, but now, officials are calling for more members of the community to step forward and take part.
While no one involved in "Don't Shoot" says the problem of violent crime is solved, numbers have dipped since "Don't Shoot" started in 2012. Compared to 2010, a particularly violent year for Peoria, 44 fewer people have been shot so far in 2014.
"Which is very significant. That's 44 fewer people that are in our court system, 44 fewer people that we're dealing with, and 44 fewer people in our hospitals," said Eddlemon.
Peoria has also seen a significant dip in the number of murders so far. By this time last year, eight people had been murdered. This year, the number is down to three. Going back the last decade, there is not a single year with fewer murders through July.
Two of the three murders this year have been a result of gun violence. The first was on Feb. 5, when Justin Thompson was shot at the Landmark Apartments on the city's south side. The second happened May 24, when Derrick Booth, Jr. was shot outside a house on South Green Lawn Ave., also on the south side.
Through the first six months of the year, crime overall was up 7% compared to 2013, according to PPD's online statistics. The statistic that seems responsible for the rise was arson. Those figures jumped 108% compared to 2013, which, to be clear, was a year that saw an unusually low amount of intentionally-set fires. Theft, motor vehicle theft, and burglary also edged up slightly over 2013 numbers.
Mayor Jim Ardis says it's important to look at the big picture, though, when judging whether or not "Don't Shoot" has criminals on the run. In that regard, he says he's "cautiously optimistic" about where the city is heading when it comes to battling street crime.
"We're not trying to paint this big rosy picture that life is good in Peoria, Illinois," Ardis said. "The message is we're seeing success, we're not letting up, and as we continue to grow and evolve, we putting more focus on where the bad areas are."