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Peoria Police expand neighborhood services team

 Mary Peterson is the first Community Relations Crime Prevention Manager for the Peoria Police Department.
Semone Roth
Peoria Police Department
Mary Peterson is the first Community Relations Crime Prevention Manager for the Peoria Police Department.

A longtime advocate for supportive services in Peoria has a new role at the city’s police department. Mary Peterson is the first Community Relations Crime Prevention Manager.

The position is part of the recently expanded Neighborhood Services Unit.

“The lion's share of it would be coordinating community based organizations and service providers. Connecting them so that we can then connect the people, the residents, the community to services,” said Peterson. “We in Peoria have a wealth of resources, they're not always as connected together as they could be.”

In order to achieve this, much of Peterson’s job involves reaching out and enlisting area agencies to be a part of IRIS, or the Integrated Referral Intake System.

“It is a system where a person can go in and refer, once it's set up and in place, and refer someone to three, four or five different agencies for services,” she said. “They will know what's the capacity of that service provider, community-based organizations, whether they're full, or whether they're still taking intakes.”

IRIS also will let the person who made the referral know whether it was accepted or rejected and when the person that was referred received the service. Peterson said, when fully functional, IRIS will streamline a process that would normally involve four to five phone calls and take several hours without any easy way to follow up and get more information. All of the information on IRIS will be confidential and all the participating agencies will have to sign confidentiality agreements.

Peterson said another useful aspect is the ability to hold quarterly meetings and pull reports to better understand how Peoria’s community agencies serve the city and what gaps could be filled. If Peterson sees that one organization struggles with providing a certain type of service or is at capacity, she can help them coordinate with another group that participates in IRIS to meet the need.

“It's going to close a loop and it's going to help us understand where the gaps are,” said Peterson. “And work to try and fill some of those gaps.”

Peterson said this role isn’t too different from her last job. Previously, she worked with the Workforce Equity Initiative at Illinois Central College. In that role, she helped coordinate the same kinds of organizations as those in IRIS to help provide low-income students with the support that they needed to further their education.

“It's not (a major change) in that I am doing what I've always done,” said Peterson. “And that's advocacy.”

The hope is that once IRIS is filled with a registry of organizations, it can work hand in hand with Peterson’s colleagues in the neighborhood services unit who go out to community events and work with neighborhood groups. They include Community Engagement Coordinator Keith McDaniel and a number of neighborhood specific officers.

“Peoria is home for me. And I've been in and out, you know leaving for college and then going someplace else to work. But I've been back and coming back, I know what we have been, and I know what we can be,” said Peterson. “I’m excited to be a part of, I call it and I know that it’s been used but, reimagining, reinvesting, reinvigorating and restoring Peoria.”

You can learn more about what IRIS is and how it works, as well as the story of its creation at the University of Kansas, here.

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