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January Safety Network meeting highlights racial disparities in gun violence, gives Cure Violence update

Collin Schopp
In a graphic provided by the Peoria Police Department, the red portion of the charts shows black male gunshot victims, while the yellow wedges are black female gunshot victims.

The first 2023 meeting of the Peoria Safety Network, a group of community officials and leaders aimed at reducing gun violence, provided year-end statistics and an important update on the status of the Cure Violence Initiative.

Peoria Police Department data analyst Jacob Moushon said, compared to 2021, shooting incidents, shooting victims, shooting murders and all murders were down by at least 25% in 2022. However, breaking the information down by demographics shows some concerning disparities.

“So, 74% of our gunshot victims last year were African American males with 20% being African American females,” said Moushon. “So, 94% (of gunshot victims in 2022) are African American.”

Moushon also pointed to a rise in juvenile and female gunshot victims over the last five years.

According to Peoria Mayor Rita Ali, the black community makes up just under 28% of Peoria’s total population. She said these statistics are concerning, but also highlight the type of issues the Safety Network aims to address.

“We're using the data to target certain areas. So, we're looking at the hottest gun violence or gun violence areas within the city,” she said. “One is located on the East Bluff, one is located on the South Side. So, we're saying we need to focus our attention or resources on those areas, and then measure our progress along the way, not just have the police focus on those areas, but have the community involved. And that community also includes members and leaders within the African American community.”

These areas, surrounding the intersections of Arcadia and Wisconsin in the East Bluff, and Griswold and Starr in the south, may be familiar. They’re also the locations designated by the crime prevention organization Cure Violence as candidates for ots program.

The Peoria City County/Health Department, which took up funding the Cure Violence program after the City Council declined to do so, said the agency received the results of Cure Violence’s pre-implementation assessment, also known as the readiness assessment.

A special board of health meeting at the Peoria Public Library Downtown Branch on Wednesday, Jan. 18 will review the findings of the readiness assessment from 9 to 11 a.m.

“We have had a chance, (public health administrator) Monica (Hendrickson) and I, to review the assessment and the findings are overall positive in terms of our ability to implement the program here in Peoria,” said Director of Epidemiology and Clinical Services Kathryn Endress. “So, we do plan to move forward.”

Endress said the next step is putting out a request for proposal application for community organizations that want to primarily work as a “host site” with Cure Violence. The application is expected Jan. 24.

“So, they’ll kind of hire the workforce team that will be the violence interrupters and the outreach workers that will go out and do work for the program,” said Endress. “Those individuals will be hired directly from the community. So, we’re looking for community-based organizations that are already working in our target area.”

You can read more about what violence interrupters and outreach workers are, as well as the overall strategy of Cure Violence, in an interview with their CEO here. Cure Violence will, at least initially, operate only in the East Bluff. Endress estimated hiring could be completed and work could start by July.

“They want to get to the South Side as soon as possible,” said Ali. “But based upon limited funding and the fact that we’re sort of piloting this, you have to start somewhere.”

In the meantime, Ali said the Safety Network is developing its own plan to focus on the hot spot in South Peoria.

“We’ll have a draft plan for the next meeting in February,” she said. “We’ll refine that plan by March and then we could be hitting the streets by sometime in the latter part of March or the early part of April.”

The next meeting of the Safety Network is Friday, Feb. 10 at the Peoria Public Schools Administration Building.

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