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Cure Violence CEO explains the prevention program that could come to Peoria

Dr. Fredrick Echols has been the CEO of Cure Violence Global since May of this year. He was previously Health Commissioner and Acting Health Director for the city of St. Louis.
Cure Violence Global
Dr. Fredrick Echols, CEO of Cure Violence Global since May, previously was health commissioner and acting health director for the city of St. Louis.

Cure Violence Global is assessing the readiness of Peoria for its violence prevention program.

The four-step assessment process is expected to take about two weeks. Dr. Fredrick Echols, the program’s CEO, says the purpose of the assessment is to make sure Peoria is a good fit.

“We really wanted to look at what was happening in the community and get community feedback around what they felt some of the issues were,” said Echols. “As well as informing them about the model and how the model is implemented in neighborhoods across the country.”

The $25,000 readiness assessment is funded by the Peoria City/County Health Department thatassumed the cost after the assessment wasvoted down by the Peoria City Council.

Following the assessment, it will be up to a RFP (Request for Proposal) application from the health department for $250,000 in American Rescue Plan funds from the city to actually implement the Cure Violence program.

The city council votes on the request, part of a $700,000 bundle to five community organizations for violence prevention programs, at its meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 11.

The Cure Violence model has been used in places like Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and, internationally, in Trinidad & Tobago and Colombia. You can find more information on the results of programs in these cities here.

It operates primarily around training and establishing relationships through outreach workers and “interrupters” hired from within the community.

“Hiring the wrong person to do this work cannot only be detrimental to their life, but it can be detrimental to the life of everyone that's been hired at a particular site,” said Echols. “And so we have to make sure individuals have credibility.”

Cure Violence does that by implementing a lengthy hiring process. First, potential interrupters are asked to highlight where in the community they have credibility, who they know and what their history there is. Then a Cure Violence staff member takes them on a walk-through of their neighborhood.

“Sometimes, you know, what people say behind closed doors doesn't match the reality in the community,” said Echols. “And so when we identify individuals who do not have the proper credibility, we remove them from the hiring process completely.”

If the verification process goes well, the candidates then go in front of a hiring panel. Echols said the panel usually includes representatives from Cure Violence, law enforcement, health departments, religious organizations and people from the neighborhood where the program will operate. Echols said this step also functions well as a screening tool.

“That, as my staff said, their night matches their day,” he said. “Meaning that they're being consistent in their efforts to really do good in the community. Those are the individuals that we want.”

It also will be important that these individuals are from the “catchment zone” that Cure Violence identifies in Peoria. Echols said these zones are identified by looking at up to 10 years of shooting data, obtained through local health departments and law enforcement. The basis of the program is preventing instances of violence in these zones through the interrupters and outreach workers to create a ripple effect to reduce violence throughout the city. Echols said this is modeled on treating violence as a disease, and approaching it from a public health perspective.

“That requires for us to be able to know and identify the root cause that allows us to interrupt the transmission or the spread of disease. We're able to prevent further spread of disease by helping individuals implement behavior change methods,” said Echols. “Then we change social norms so that the community as a whole can live a safer and healthier life.”

Program Specialist Demeatreas Whatley explains the public education campaigns portion of the Cure Violence program at Monday's Cure Violence 101 meeting at the Peoria Public Library.
Collin Schopp
Program Specialist Demeatreas Whatley explains the public education campaigns portion of the Cure Violence program at the Mon. Oct. 3 Cure Violence 101 meeting at the Peoria Public Library.

Many of these root causes include what Cure Violence calls the “social determinants” of public health. These include things like education access, health care, community involvement and economic stability. Echols said the areas defined as catchment areas often are lacking in these key categories. The model includes local organizations to help fulfill some of these needs.

However, there is more to Cure Violence’s program than connecting organizations and hiring interrupters. There also are more than 40 hours of training for everyone involved, with an additional 40 for people hired as managers or supervisors. There’s also additional “booster training” over the course of the first year of the program. Cure Violence staff stay in the area for these training sessions, usually around a month, and then conduct regular check-ins throughout the duration of the program.

Echols said the training curriculum has been evaluated by the Department of Justice.

“We're really here listening as well as letting them know what the model is because the model is one thing,” said Echols. “But if we're not able to tailor the model to the area where the program is going to be implemented, then we will be doing an injustice to the community.”

Every one of these decisions and parts of the program is data and evidence based, he said.

“Research and evaluation is a critical component to any public health initiative,” he said. “So ensuring that we have a standardized tool to capture data as well as having a standardized methodology to analyze and evaluate the data that's collected is really important.”

Chief Program Officer Brent Decker explains the phases of the assessment before Cure Violence picks specific locations and plans for a city.
Collin Schopp
Chief Program Officer Brent Decker explains the phases of the assessment before Cure Violence picks specific locations and plans for a city.

This extends to the local workers that Cure Violence hires; everyone is trained on data collection and reporting so it can be entered in a database and analyzed to determine how effective the program is and if the approach needs to change in any way.

Echols said this data is collected over years, so if Cure Violence does come to Peoria, it will be a while before there’s any concrete information on the results. But there will be results from the readiness assessment much sooner. Echols said there will be a full report on how Cure Violence plans to proceed issued to the public by late November.

It can happen in any jurisdiction as long as they have the right buy-in,” said Echols. “You have the right staff doing the work, and you have the right community-based organizations doing the work as well.”

In the meantime, you can find more information about the program, including independent evaluations and a look at Cure Violence’s past work, here.

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