'If we don't do this, somebody else is going to die': Peoria's top cop wants to meet with women after city's 24th homicide of 2021
In the wake of the city's 24th homicide of 2021, the leader of the Peoria Police Department is asking a specific group of people for help: Women.
On Oct. 22, Peoria Police Chief Eric Echevarria hopes to meet with any woman in Peoria who is related to a victim of gun violence.
Because recent violence appears to be so interpersonal, Echevarria said he hopes victims' wives, girlfriends, mothers, sisters, daughters, grandmothers and aunts will be willing to talk with him.
"We need to tap into the power of the women, their influence, to cause a ceasefire," he said. "To stop what's going on."
The chief's event will take place at OSF HealthCare, a "neutral" location for families, he said. Trauma director Dr. Bradley Phillips also will be present.
A time for the event is to be determined; follow the Peoria Police Department on Facebook for updates.
The chief's idea aligns with Peoria Mayor Rita Ali's philosophy that community-driven solutions are key to curbing the city's gun violence.
“We need the community to really be a part of the solution, and I mean in a very active, immediate way,” Ali said last week after the shooting death of 17-year-old Manual High School senior Jerry Snipes Jr.
On Monday, Echevarria told reporters he is seeing a pattern of fighting between two groups in the city, adding the two groups are distinct in terms of the areas in which crime is happening.
Echevarria stressed that he does not believe the violence is gang-related. In a gang, he said, there is an obvious structure that is lacking in these two groups.
"There's somebody that's a leader, and then there's rules, and there's policies, and there are procedures in a gang," he said. "You'll find a manifest that tells you, 'Who's who,' I've yet to see that list, or see those kinds of rules, here in the city of Peoria, amongst what we're seeing."
Echevarria said he has "no idea" why people are fighting, and he wants to find out.
On Monday, Echevarria met with around 30 members of local clergy to gather insights into the violence and to ask for ideas on how to bring the community together.
"Nobody's been able to answer for me, where this issue originated," he said. "Nobody can pinpoint for me where all this started."
One idea that came out of Monday's meeting with clergy was to pick a day for a citywide fast as part of a message to end violence.
Echevarria said he'd love to see Peoria's roughly 300 individual church congregations band together for any message of unity.
He also is thinking about planning a citywide "resource fair" to bring together all of Peoria nonprofit agencies, social services organizations, community leaders.
The chief is continuing to have his officers walk neighborhood blocks in an effort to introduce police to residents in a "positive" manner, rather than having that initial introduction be over a tragic or violent situation.
Regardless of whatever it is that is angering residents and pitting them against each other, Echevarria thinks the uptick in fatal gun violence has to do with people not being willing to communicate with each other in a healthy way.
Arguments that used to end in fist fights are now turning deadly because people are "quick to grab a weapon," he said.
"We've forgotten how to speak to each other."
Ultimately, Echevarria reiterated a message he shared a few weeks ago, following the city's 23rd homicide of 2021: the community needs to share information to solve crimes.
Echevarria acknowledged police departments have struggled to attain the trust of communities affected by the violence, particularly communities of color.
The chief, who came to Peoria this year after a long law enforcement career in Elgin, said he wants to change that narrative.
As a Puerto Rican, Echevarria said he understands why communities of color distrust the police — especially after the events of last year.
But in order to protect communities and solve crimes, he said the police need to gain the trust of potential witnesses to crimes and those with information that could help prevent future violence.
The majority of Peoria's homicide victims are Black men; Echevarria said he hopes the women in those victims' lives feel comfortable meeting him at OSF later this month.
He said he knows these women likely face "generational trauma" and are not necessarily ready to trust police and divulge details of a crime.
But Echevarria said he hopes they may be willing to sit down, in the presence of social service agencies, to discuss the impact violence has on their lives and communities and to describe what kind of "wraparound services" could help prevent future tragedies.
"They're all suffering. They're all in pain," Echevarria said. "If we don't do this, somebody else is going to die."
Snipes, 17, was a senior at Manuel High School on Peoria's South Side. His death marked the city's 24th homicide in 2021.
The city hit its single-year record for homicides in 2019 with 25 murders.
Echevarria said Monday he was not aware of any vigils for Snipes, but that he would assist Peoria Public Schools in any way he can, adding officers are continuing to meet with school leaders and discuss the large fight at Peoria High School.
Residents can provide anonymous information about crime by calling 309-673-9000 or submitting an anonymous tip via CrimeStoppers.
Residents also can contact PPD directly.