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Peoria NAACP, law enforcement agencies tout ‘shared principles’ as a path to better community relations

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Joe Deacon
NAACP Peoria Branch president Rev. Marvin Hightower, center, signs a "Ten Shared Principles" poster as Peoria Police Chief Eric Echevarria, left, and Peoria County Sheriff's Office Superintendent Ronda Guyton watch Tuesday at the NAACP office in Peoria.

The Peoria branch of the NAACP, Peoria Police Department, and Peoria County Sheriff's Office are working together to improve community relations.

“We already have been out there trying to build these relationships with our community,” Peoria Police Chief Eric Echevarria said Tuesday after joining Peoria NAACP President Rev. Marvin Hightower and Peoria County Sheriff’s Office Superintendent Ronda Guyton in signing the “Ten Shared Principles” pledge.

“This is just a reaffirmation of what we're doing and what we're going to continue to do within our communities of color.”

Hightower said the pact to value life and reject discrimination shows how police agencies are working to build stronger bonds with the people they serve.

“We want to make sure that at NAACP, that we work in concert with our chiefs of police to make it better for our community relations,” said Hightower. “The community relationship between the police and the community has been fractured. So the police department, they're doing their part. Now it's time for us as community to step up as well.”

Appearing on behalf of Sheriff Brian Asbell, Guyton said accountability is crucial to building trust between law enforcement and residents.

“As we have officers who are going into training, what we're going to be doing is making sure that we are teaching them exactly what we expect them to do while they're out in our community,” said Guyton. “So it's not just putting something on paper and going through the motions, but it's also making sure that everybody has been held accountable for what we're going to do moving forward.”

Hightower said there’s “no magic bullet” to solving Peoria’s violence problem that has seen 27 homicides in the city so far this year.

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Joe Deacon

“A lot of people tend to say that Peoria is violent. No, there's individuals in Peoria that have been violent, that have committed these crimes,” said Hightower. “What this will do is help foster the relationship of the community as well as the police department, so that we can start tamping down some of the violence because people will be more inclined to share information.”

One of the shared principles identifies value in officers engaging with people outside of law enforcement interaction. Echevarria said that requires going beyond typical police work.

“These neighborhood ‘walk-and-talks’ that we've been doing, we're not there because you called the police. We’re there because we want to come out there and meet you where you're at,” said Echevarria. “So we're knocking on residents’ doors and saying, ‘Hi,’ sharing some resources and explaining why we're there."

The state NAACP and Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police endorsed the “Ten Shared Principles” in 2018. Hightower said former Peoria Police Chief Loren Marion had been willing to sign the pact, but he announced plans to retire before the opportunity arrived and Hightower opted to wait until the new permanent chief was in place and settled into the job.

“I was observing to see if (Echevarria) embodies the 10 shared principles before signing the 10 shared principles,” said Hightower. “If you compare the principles to what he has been doing, I believe you will agree with me that he has. He also added that he wanted to take it from principles into policy.”

Echevarria said the shared principles are now officially part of the department’s code of ethics that every officer must accept.

“We didn't just sign a document, but we also embedded it into our policy. So, I think when the community sees that, they understand that we mean what we say,” he said. “It builds that trust, transparency and legitimacy with our community. We need to build that trust that we're going to do our job fairly and equitably.

“We won't only demonstrate this by our words, but we'll be demonstrating this with our actions.”

Guyton said Asbell already put the principles into practice among his deputies and staff.

“When you're looking at community policing, you're looking at diversity, you're looking at dignity and respect, all of those things are key components that's going to make our community better,” she said. “We can't be better if we're not willing to continue to evolve to make sure that our community is thriving.”

Echevarria called the principles document a guideline and a reminder of how officers should conduct themselves, but noted he’s already observed members of his department adhering to the tenets.

“Although it might not have been written in this shape or form, this is what they've been doing,” he said. “Now, all we're doing is putting it down on paper and signing it to say that we’re part of this. But they have been part of this, and will continue to be part of this."

Hightower said a strengthening the relationship between police and residents requires effort on both sides, and will ultimately add value to the community.

“It's going to take time, effort and energy. The difference between a moment and a movement is sacrifice, so we all have to sacrifice and do our part to build the relationship now,” he said. “We can make it better as we work together.”

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.