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Peoria City Council punts vote to reconsider funding a gun violence reduction assessment

A slide from the Peoria City/County Health Department's presentation on the Cure Violence assessment program.
A slide from the Peoria City/County Health Department's presentation on the Cure Violence assessment program.

A first step in addressing Peoria’s gun violence through a public health lens failed to gain much traction around the horseshoe yet again.

The City Council spent over an hour questioning the Cure Violence program, an evidence-based group targeting areas experiencing consistent violence; three weeks after the $25,000 assessment stalled in a 5-5 vote.

Last night, the council reconsidered the assessment.

Cure Violence Global Chief Program Officer Brent Decker joined over the phone while Peoria City/County Health Department (PCCHD) officials presented at the podium.

Public Health Administrator Monica Hendrickson and Director of Epidemiology and Clinical Services Katy Endress spoke on the importance of looking at gun violence as an endemic issue.

Hendrickson says in the leading cause of death for 15-to-24 year-olds in Peoria County is homicide, and it’s the second leading cause of death for 25-to-35 year-olds.

“This is a fundamental shift towards thinking of [violence] as a public health issue,” Hendrickson said. “This isn’t about bad people committing senseless acts to be punished, but rather these are individuals who have learned behavior…that it is a contagious process and we don’t need to punish them but rather interrupting and changing their behaviors.”

In Endress’ portion of the presentation she remarked on how Baltimore, New York City and Philadelphia neighborhoods not only were able to lower violence, but the monetary costs associated with them.

“A neighborhood known as Crown Heights in central Brooklyn replicated CeaseFire, [known now Cure Violence], as Save Our Streets in 2010,” Endress said. “Results show a decrease of 6% in average monthly shooting rates, while this was not statistically significant on its own, when compared to three similar adjacent neighborhoods…it revealed rates increased between 18-28% in these areas during the same time period.”

Endress goes on to share Cure Violence data from an independent ten-year analysis that each dollar spent the program saved thirty-three; every dollar invested by the government would save four dollars going forward.

Decker explains the initiative is for Cure Violence to assess current agency actions, interview community leaders and civil servants as well as document the opinions of citizens within the affected areas of Peoria. Once the assessment ends, the group will offer potential next steps on consolidating community efforts.

An example would be Cure Violence helping city officials and community groups locate residents who are willing to help the collective effort. 2nd Councilman Chuck Grayeb asked Decker to answer which people would be involved from the community.

“In every community the staff makeup is different and that is where the assessment process comes in,” Decker said. “Where are the neighborhoods where violence is acute and who is involved in the violence…who has credibility to work with them.” Decker states it could be a football coach, pastor, fathers, mothers, anyone who can connect and interrupt the spread of violence.

Though, the talk of potential hiring panels pinpointing community members who want to help made some council members wary of the program’s purpose.

Many councilmen, including Grayeb, John Kelly (At-Large), Zach Oyler (At-Large) Sid Ruckriegel (At-Large) and Kiran Velpula (At-Large) said they were missing information about Cure Violence, with some contending the $25,000 funded from the ARPA grant would be taken from taxpayers without seeing the full picture.

Councilman Velpula, after the presentation, says he “can’t put his brain behind it,” as the program doesn’t seem to offer prevention solutions to him.

“...[T]he risk factors which comprise poverty, domestic violence, gangs, public safety…we are actually addressing it at the terminal stage for me, but I may be wrong though,” Velpula said. He asked City Manager Patrick Urich if this was advisable instead of other primary preventions following through.

Urich says the city council already has taken steps to address Peoria’s violence. The assessment from Cure Violence, according to Urich, would put all the necessary pieces together.

“If you look at how we allocated our American Rescue Plan funding we are addressing it that way,” Urich said. “Our primary prevention activities and those approaches prior to violence occurring are some of the work that we’re doing within our neighborhoods. We put two and a half million dollars of [ARPA] funding towards addressing our neighborhoods. Some of the work we’re doing is from an early prevention response…we’re putting [ARPA] into economic development and workforce development that is specifically addressing that in those areas we’re trying to focus on.’

‘Lastly with the smallest portion of [ARPA] funding that we’re setting aside is violence prevention…and this is just $25,000 of that $1.3 million to do this assessment and see if this model could work in Peoria.”

The assessment reconsideration vote was deferred to June 28. Prior to council deferring the assessment. 1st District Councilwoman Denise Jackson told fellow members that further questions and concerns about the program could be answered by other communities.

“We’re standing around here like we’re trying to do something new, we’re just trying to put some meat into a problem we haven’t been able to solve for at least ten years now,” Jackson said. “...[L]et’s do the research, if you don’t want to approve it tonight, let’s go to Rockford, let’s go to Decatur. We’ve got groups out there that have said ‘We’re willing to work with you.’ I don’t think Jesse McGowan would be here tonight if he wasn’t concerned about violence. I don’t think church group after church group…I don’t think the East Bluff Community Center would be doing the things they’re doing….who else are we going to call?”

Brady started as WCBU's Audio Operations Coordinator in 2022. Brady is a member of the Society of Broadcast Engineers.