Q&A: Mayor Ali insists Peoria is committed to reducing violence
Gun violence remains a major problem in Peoria, despite multiple crime prevention and reduction initiatives and programs.
With 24 homicides this year, Peoria has matched its total from 2022 – although it’s important to note there were no murders last December, so the pace is nearly the same.
Peoria Mayor Rita Ali says law enforcement and outreach programs need more community support and involvement to address the gun violence.
In her latest monthly interview with WCBU reporter Joe Deacon, Ali insists the city is committed to its anti-violence efforts.
This transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.
How can the city improve its approach to curbing violent crime?
Mayor Rita Ali: We really have to be consistent. We have to stay the course. We’ve implemented some new initiatives this year. We’ve gotten a lot of help from federal and state officials and law enforcement, and we have to really continue to do the things that will work. It doesn’t happen overnight. We’ve got some new programs that are in place within the community at community-based organizations.
But I think that we’re doing the right things; we have a lot of the right measures in place. We have a new co-response program that’s coming very soon, that will have specialists, counselors and social workers, assisting with police in terms of domestic issues. But I just think that a lot of things are in place, a lot of new initiatives. We’re using technology, from license plate readers to other technology that identifies cars and perpetrators and where they are.
The ShotSpotter certainly is very helpful in terms of letting us know where the shootings are taking place, what type of weapons are being used and whether they’re high powered weapons or kind of regular, standard weapons, and we know how many shots are taking place. So I think we have a lot of the tools that we need to bring the numbers down. We just have to stay the course and continue to ask the community to be a part of the solution, continue to call in when you see something, when you hear something, and be part of the solution.
You mentioned community organizations. What will it take for programs like the Peoria Safety Network, Cure Violence, and others to start making more of an impact?
Ali: Again, I think there is a collective process going on. There’s a lot of engagement, there’s a lot of collaboration, there’s a lot of sharing of resources and leveraging of resources. Again, this phenomenon is not just happening here, but we want to control it here. We have to continue to press on, we have to continue to indicate that we’re not going to settle for this within our neighborhoods, within our community, within our city. We are going to continue to stand against violence.
With the closing of the Peoria Community Against Violence (PCAV) at the end of last month, it kind of leaves a void in the community for victims’ services. How can that void be filled?
Ali: You know, PCAV started as a volunteer organization, a volunteer board of individuals that stepped forward. They were holding vigils, and they were doing kind of peace marches. Then they started going into the homes after a homicide took place and assisting that family that is left, that is hurting and supporting those family members with job opportunities, sometimes scholarships, but certainly pain and grief assistance.
I hope and pray that that volunteer effort comes back. PCAV didn’t always have a paid staff; I think that came about a little bit over a couple years ago. But it doesn’t mean that the whole organization has to cease to be in existence. Hopefully funds will come available for paid staff again at some point. But hopefully the effort doesn’t go away, and if it does go away under that title, I hope it resumes under another effort.
But we do still need that type of support within our community. Some of it, I would say, is being addressed and picked up to some degree by the chaplains that we have within the police department. They go to the homes when someone is killed, sometimes when someone is injured or shot, and they help to provide grief services and support and counseling for those family members.
From your perspective, why wasn’t the city able to help save PCAV?
Ali: I don’t think it was the responsibility of the city to save any organization that applies for grant funding. I think that there’s a process, there’s funding that is available and then there’s organizations – and I could name several – that apply for the funding. PCAV actually was selected as the provider for East Bluff’s Cure Violence. I think, from what I understand, they kind of pulled back, paused and were – didn’t have the capacity to actually pull that off. So the (Peoria County) Health Department, the organization that put out the RFP, Request For Proposal, for Cure Violence for the East Bluff, they pulled back and they put out the RFP for the South Side, and then they selected an organization to serve that. To my knowledge, PCAV didn’t apply for that opportunity as well.
So now there seems to be a bit of a void there in the East Bluff.
Ali: Absolutely, but I think the health department still has every intention of providing a Cure Violence initiative for the city of Peoria. They were going to start first with the East Bluff and then next go to the South Side, but then that got flipped when PCAV wasn’t able to deliver the services. So then the South Side will be the first Cure Violence program implementation, and then at some point, they’ll move to the East Bluff.
The Bob Michel Bridge is on track to reopen by the end of the month, and you recently joined Gov. JB Pritzker and other elected officials in celebrating the completion of the bridge’s reconstruction. What are the biggest advantages to having this bridge upgraded and reopened?
Ali: I think the walkability of the bridge, the fact that people are going to more safely walk the bridge more safely bicycle over the bridge, and more safely drive over the bridge. At one time, it was called the Franklin Street Bridge before it was changed to the Bob Michel Bridge. Since that time, this rehab that would normally take two years has taken about nine months. So it’s been expedited, but still the work was done very professionally and very safely. So I’m just really proud that we’ll be able to access and traverse that bridge from the Peoria side to the East Peoria side and back and forth.
What does having that bridge reopened mean for that economic area?
Ali: So it does mean advantages in terms of tourism, advantages in terms of economic development, being able to access the recreation in Peoria easily, more easily, being able to access Peoria businesses and East Peoria, the Levee District. So transportation is extremely important to economic development and economic opportunity.
With the bridge reopening, some attention in that area now shifts to the conversion of Adams and Jefferson to two-way traffic. When will that work begin in earnest, and how much of an upheaval will it cause to downtown transportation?
Ali: From my understanding, we’re looking to begin that work in early 2024 and that it will take some time. I thought that it was going to happen in just a few months, you know, one-way street to two-way street. But apparently it takes a little bit longer than that and it may take a little bit over a year, almost close to a two-year time period.
But it will slow down traffic in downtown Peoria. It will cause people to not just try to get out of downtown, but to take a look at downtown, to stop downtown at businesses and other organizations, and just really slow it down so that people can just enjoy the downtown area and not try to rush in and rush out of town.
Part of the goal of this conversion is to assist in downtown revitalization. What other efforts are underway to return vibrancy to downtown Peoria?
Ali: Downtown Peoria is one of the six priorities of our new five-year strategic plan. We want a thriving downtown – a thriving downtown means a thriving city. So in terms of supporting the new Marriott Pere Marquette, we have a new redevelopment agreement there. We’re looking for a family restaurant or business to be connected to that operation.
We’re also looking for downtown Peoria to take these big, historic commercial buildings and turn them into multi-use residential and commercial facilities. So more people will live downtown in the days and months and years ahead. Because more people will live downtown, more residential facilities, it will attract more business, more boutiques, it will attract perhaps even pharmacy and grocery in that area.
You mentioned the six priorities of the strategic plan, and another one of those is improving infrastructure all around the city. What do you see as some of the most important priorities infrastructure-wise, and what projects are already underway?
Ali: Definitely our roads. Of course we still have to live through the winter; we have rough winters and hopefully we won’t have too bad of a winter this year. But there’s some roads that have waited for a very long time to have new construction done or milling over. So roads are a big deal. We’re seeing a lot of improvements to Glen Avenue; we’ve seen improvements to Allen Road and Orange Prairie Road. But I’m excited about the plan, the plan for infrastructure – and that includes sidewalks. Sidewalks where there never were sidewalks, sidewalks where they’ve been kind of torn up or in need of repair.
The filing period for next spring’s elections just ended, and I realize Peoria mayor is not on the next ballot. But how much thought have you given to your political future and whether you intend to seek a second term?
Ali: Great question, I didn’t expect that one. Of course, it’s something that is on my mind. I don’t have a clear answer for you yet. It’s something that I’ll have to decide probably before September of next year. It would mean four more years; I’m in my third year now, but we still have a little ways to go – a year and a half to go on my term. I know I can’t wait until the last minute to make that decision, but at some point next year in 2024, I will make that decision and I’ll make that announcement known.
As you look ahead to next year, what plans or goals do you have for Peoria and for yourself in 2024?
Ali: My goal is to help to push our new strategic plan, to put it into action, to implement the plan. We have, again, six priority areas and we have goals, and we have outcomes that are associated with those six areas. Those six areas, downtown development is one of those areas, improving the quality of life, improving community safety in Peoria.
Infrastructure is a big deal, and we’ve dedicated $100 million over the next two years to our infrastructure. Helping businesses to grow and prosper in Peoria, embracing diversity, equity and inclusion – those are our goals within our strategic plan, and that is my goal, to help to make sure that we’re fulfilling that plan that was developed jointly with the key stakeholders and residents of Peoria.