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New police department position, Cure Violence update announced at Safety Network meeting

Peoria Mayor Rita Ali, right, gathers ideas for community violence prevention measures on a whiteboard during the September meeting of the Peoria Safety Network.
Collin Schopp
Peoria Mayor Rita Ali, right, gathers ideas for community violence prevention measures on a whiteboard during the September meeting of the Peoria Safety Network.

The September meeting of the Peoria Safety Network included announcements of a new position at the Peoria Police Department, an update on the status of the proposed Cure Violence assessment, and brainstorming on potential programs to combat crime.

The Safety Network is a group of community leaders, nonprofits and officials, led by Mayor Rita Ali, with the goal of reducing violence in Peoria.

Following a presentation Friday from the Peoria Police Department that showed drops in rounds fired, ShotSpotter alerts, shootings and homicides between July and August, Chief Eric Echevarria announced a new position at the department.

Mary Peterson will start Monday as the department’s community relations crime prevention manager.

“Her job will be to meet with all our nonprofits, for profit groups, anybody, any resource that we have in the city,” said Echevarria. “Get all this information and essentially, in summary, make sure it is the hub at the police department to all these resources.”

Echevarria said the position is one he’s wanted to fill since he started at the department.

“But you know, there was some other priorities in place as the first year that I was here dealing with everything else,” he said. “This is what is the start date that’s going to work best for her, so here we are. Excited, ready to go.”

Monica Hendrickson, public health administrator for the Peoria City/County Health Department, also provided an update on the status of the Cure Violence assessment.

“The Cure Violence team did meet with the health department,” said Hendrickson. “We signed a contract, started that process.”

The health department stepped in to fund the Cure Violence assessment after the option was voted down by the Peoria City Council. Before signing a contract with the health department, Cure Violence wanted to conduct interviews with community leaders and officials to determine if the program would be viable in Peoria.

“They talked to several, they talked to councilman (Sid) Ruckriegel and I from the city council,” said Ali. “There were members of the board of health, members of the police department and others from the faith based community, from the NAACP and other organizations.”

Ali said the interviews went well.

“I think they heard some real dedication,” she said. “Also a sense of urgency to do something different that we have not done, something that was evidence based.”

Hendrickson said the first step of the assessment is large-scale community meetings that will start in early October. The health department will be emailing out more information on the dates and times of the meetings that will be open to the public.

The group also brainstormed some ideas for potential programs that Safety Network could help develop. Among them were a case management database, a program to get victims of violence access to care and recovery, capacity building classes that teach nonprofits how to effectively apply for grants, a role model program, and extra cameras and lighting for underlit neighborhoods.

Ali said an anonymous community organization is considering a donation between $30,000 and $40,000 to build out Safety Network programs, and she will be bringing some of these ideas back to them.

The next Safety Network meeting is Friday, Oct. 14.

Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.