‘Peoria, for the most part, is a safe city’: Mayor Ali points to surge in violence as targeted, isolated acts
Peoria Mayor Rita Ali admits spikes in violent crime make it difficult to change perceptions that the city is a dangerous place.
Two fatal shootings about a mile apart on Aug. 31 that police say were related marked seven homicides in Peoria last month, bringing the total for the year to 18. Another fatal shooting five days earlier occurred just outside city limits.
Ali said these violent crimes are predominantly targeted, isolated incidents.
“It's not like people are randomly shooting people in Peoria; that's not the case,” Ali said in an interview with WCBU. “That does happen in some places around the country. But Peoria, for the most part, is a safe city. There are, again, groups that are fighting one another and they're using guns to fight. That's unfortunate; we want to break that up.
“We want to try to improve lives, and that's what we're working to do. And it again, it takes a village, it takes a whole community. We have plenty of resources here. We're connecting those resources, and in many ways I see progress. Sometimes it's like taking two steps forward and one step back; unfortunately we had a step back.”
Ali said she believes the late-summer increase in violence is part of a phenomenon happening across the country.
“I think some of it comes from divisions between groups — not necessarily gangs, but groups — and they start to have [a] beef, beefing over social media sometimes,” she said. “And it gets worse, it escalates and it ultimately leads to gun violence, face-to-face action against one another.
“It's really sad; it's heartbreaking when it happens in our community, and especially when it happens to younger populations. But again, the police and the community working together can help to quell that.”
Ali said Peoria had seen noticeable improvement in reducing violent crime prior to the August spike. Two years ago, the city had 20 homicides by the end of July, compared with 14 last year and 11 this year.
“Even though there's lots of effort — and believe me there is: We've got special task forces, we've got the co-response model that's coming, we’ve got Cure Violence programs that are coming — they haven't happened yet,” Ali said. “So some of the opportunities that we have, some of the investments that we've made, haven't gotten off the ground yet. They're coming, but they haven't gotten off the ground yet.”
Ali admits part of the challenge in addressing gun violence is getting to some of the root causes, such as poverty, education and access to weapons. She said her private Safety Network is among the groups trying to address those underlying issues.
“We've been doing assessments of each household in a South Side violent crime block area – it happens to be the block that a mass shooting took place, but finding out what the needs are of the household,” she said. “Are people in need of jobs? Are they in need of job training? Are people in need of other resources, substance abuse? What are the needs? Is there a need for family support — children, teenagers who have rage inside their hearts and their minds, and they need some counseling and intervention support. They need role models in their lives. So we've been assessing those needs and trying to discover how we can help to support families in need."
“Poverty is a big issue. Twenty percent of our population lives in poverty in Peoria, that's unfortunate. There are opportunities to change lives by getting skills that lead to jobs. There's lots of jobs within our medical community alone, there's about 2,000 jobs that are available right now. But you have to have credentials and you have to have the skill set for those jobs. Again, there's training opportunities. So we want to connect individuals that need and want those opportunities for jobs, to get connected with the resources, the training to get those jobs to lift their family out of poverty.”
Ali said cooperation between law enforcement, residents and parents is critical to ending the cycle of violence and retaliation among young people. She said the police need more people providing information and utilizing the anonymous Tip-411 hotline to get violent criminals off the streets.
Beyond that, Ali said the Safety Network and other groups continue to seek out possible solutions.
“We continue to get new people coming to those monthly meetings with new ideas, offering suggestions,” she said. “Since we had this recent incidence of gun violence, I've gotten several emails with recommendations and proposals. Everybody has an idea and we want to see how we can fit some of those ideas in, moving forward.”