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Cure Violence Global finishes readiness assessment for Peoria, here's what comes next

Cure Violence Readiness Assessment Meeting.jpg
Collin Schopp
/
WCBU
Cure Violence CEO Fredrick Echols, middle left, and Chief Program Officer Brent Decker, middle right, present the findings of the readiness assessment to the board of health and the public at a special meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 18 at the Peoria Public Library's downtown branch.

The results of the Cure Violence Global Readiness Assessment appear to point toward the impending implementation of the program in Peoria.

At a special board of health meeting on Wednesday, Cure Violence representatives and health department officials presented their findings and answered questions from the community on how the program works and how its effects are tracked.

Cure Violence Global is a violence prevention group based around a model that chooses a community-based organization in a small operating area to hire individuals who serve as “violence interrupters” and “outreach workers.” You can learn more about the model from their CEO, Dr. Fredrick Echols, here.

The Peoria City/County Health Department took up funding a four-step readiness assessment last October, after the city council passed on providing the funding. Since then, Cure Violence has hosted workshops, met with community leaders and stakeholders and prepared the final assessment.

According to chief program officer Brent Decker, the readiness assessment aimed to answer various questions: is there sufficient data about gun violence in Peoria to guide the implementation? What’s the nature and origin of violence in Peoria? Is it similar to other areas Cure Violence has been effective in? Are there community organizations that are potential candidates for contracting to work with Cure Violence and the Peoria City/County Health Department? Are there individuals in the designated areas that could potentially serve as “credible messengers” for the program?

Decker said the answer to all of these questions and more is a resounding yes.

“Sometimes when we're having these conversations, there's just not that level of commitment, and will to do something like this, right?” he said. “And so I think this is really, we felt this basically in the door, quite frankly, we felt there was a lot of support.”

Data provided by the Peoria Police Department, covering aggravated assaults, shootings and homicides for at least the last four years, helped Cure Violence zero in on two areas for implementation referred to as “catchment zones.” These areas, in Peoria’s East Bluff and the south side, have been mentioned by community leaders previously. If the board of health approves the plan, Cure Violence will start in the East Bluff and eventually expand to the south.

“We have a larger population in the East Bluff,” said Peoria City/County Health Department Public Health Administrator Monica Hendrickson. “And because we have a larger population and are treating this in a public health lens, we're talking about points of exposure, there are more points of exposure that can then subsequently create more trauma and more violence.”

The recommendation from Cure Violence Global is starting with a “medium” sized staff in the East Bluff. The structure suggests the health department as an oversight entity for a community-based organization in the target area. That organization will have a program manager and a supervisor, who will hire six to eight people to work as violence interrupters and outreach workers in the area.

Cure Violence also provided a budget estimate for getting the program established in the East Bluff for one year. The total estimate for employee salaries, operating costs and community events comes to $564,750. The health department received $250,000 in funding from the City of Peoria as part of an effort to boost violence prevention programs.

“We hope to apply for subsequent grants that we want to be released,” said Hendrickson. “But also, during our legislative breakfast we just had last week, we also requested funds directly from the state.”

Funding is important to the longevity of the program, as Cure Violence hopes getting established in the East Bluff leads to a lengthy operation in Peoria.

“We're not interested in doing something like a pilot program, right?” said Decker. “We're interested in creating health infrastructure to help reduce violence, and reach out to those who are at highest risk to be involved in violence. “

One concern raised Wednesday during questions from the public was if the program will be able to hire people with criminal histories to be violence interrupters, or if conditions attached to state and city funding will make that impossible. Officials say, because the hiring is done by a community-based organization that likely works with high-risk individuals already, this won’t be an issue.

“The ultimate goal is to hire individuals who are credible,” said Cure Violence CEO Fredrick Echols. “And so oftentimes, when you think about individuals who are at highest risk for committing an act of violence, the people that they respond best to tend to be individuals who were previously justice involved, or individuals who themselves are at high risk for committing acts of violence. “

The other pressing concern from the public is the program’s ability to collect data and provide regular updates showing whether it’s making a difference. Echols said this is a priority of the program.

“When we have all the staff hired, we spend at least 40 hours training them on database and data entry,” said Echols. “And this sets them up for success. So they can document the work that's been done in the community.”

Data collection also will include monthly reports to the health department and the broader community through community stakeholders.

With the readiness assessment done and an implementation plan in place, the next step is to find the community-based organization in the East Bluff area that has the capability to oversee the program. Hendrickson said this organization will be found through an RFP application process, expected in late January. A review board will go over the applications and choose the best candidate by around March.

“We want representation from public health, the law enforcement community, and most importantly, people that live in the catchment areas,” said Hendrickson. “Because their voice is going to be the most important.”

The board of health will vote on whether or not to move ahead with the proposed implementation plan at its meeting on Monday, Jan. 23. The full Readiness Assessment Report from Cure Violence is available available now in the meeting agenda on the health department’s website.

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