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Peoria Mayor Ali supports police chief’s recent public stances on issues

Peoria Mayor Rita Ali (left) speaks at an August 2023 news conference on recent shootings in the city as Peoria Police Chief Eric Echevarria (right) watches.
Collin Schopp
Peoria Mayor Rita Ali, left, speaks at an August 2023 news conference on recent shootings in the city as Peoria Police Chief Eric Echevarria looks on.

Mayor Rita Ali says she stands by Peoria Police Chief Eric Echevarria in his high-profile public approach to handling some recent controversial events.

In the past two months, Echevarria has railed against a decision by a circuit court judge and urged the Peoria Park District to cancel an annual East Bluff fireworks show.

“We have a brave and bold police chief, and he's speaking out on issues that he feels protect the residents of Peoria,” Ali said in an interview with WCBU.

Last week, Echevarria hastily called a news conference to decry the pretrial release of a suspect who allegedly pointed a gun at Peoria police officers after fleeing from a traffic stop.

“For that person to just be released, it was just so unfair and it was not consistent with how other individuals have been treated when they perhaps have threatened a judge or threatened a law authority,” Ali said. “We have to be consistent, and I think the chief was pointing that out.”

The suspect, Brian Childers, was later arrested in East Peoria. Childers, 45, was charged in Peoria County with multiple offenses, but Judge Mark Gilles’ turned down the petition by the State’s Attorney’s office to keep the Alabama resident in custody ahead of trial.

“When we release people like that, it really could be a huge threat to our not just law enforcement officers, but to the public at large,” Ali said.

After Childers was released with electronic monitoring, he was subsequently arrested on a no bond warrant issued by Tazewell County on armed violence and drug possession charges stemming from the same incident.

Ali thinks the act of directing a weapon toward a police officer should be sufficient to keep a suspect in custody before trial.

“The SAFE-T Act does not protect those violent offenders, and just allow them to get out after you're pointing a gun at a law enforcement officer,” she said. “I mean, technically that law enforcement officer has a right to take action; you could get killed or shot. That officer didn't do that.”

Last month, Echevarria advocated for the cancellation of the July 3rd fireworks at Glen Oak Park, citing staffing and security concerns. The Peoria Park District board eventually voted to scrap the event for this year, and to consider alternative activities as well as a reimagined event in future years.

Ali said she feels Echevarria had sound reasoning behind his desire to have the event canceled.

“The 3rd and the 4th[(of July] are right there together, and they're such a drain on our police and security forces that it's very difficult to manage both huge events back to back,” Ali said. “If they were not back to back, it wouldn't be as much of an issue in terms of managing potential violence. So I do support the police chief in terms of his recommendation that went to the park district.”

Position unchanged on Middle East

Ali reiterated her belief that Peoria should not take sides in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, but she said the city does have a duty to address incidents of racism and hatred toward religious groups.

Citizens both calling for and opposing to Peoria adopting a ceasefire resolution packed a February city council meeting.

“I don't believe that the council, which is elected to legislate local issues, should be creating a resolution that calls for some national ceasefire,” Ali said. “Of course, I'd love to see a ceasefire happen; I'd love to see peace in the Middle East and all across the world. But I don't think that we were elected to create resolutions on national issues like this.

“I think it's very divisive in this case, in terms of our local community taking such an act. The council is not prepared to do that. I'm not prepared to do that.”

An effort to put a referendum on the November ballot is expected to come up at the April 9 meeting of the Peoria Township board — which is entirely comprised by the city council members.

“There's tenseness within our community over this issue; I think there's divisiveness over this issue. But again, I don't think it's appropriate for our locality to take that action and I stand by that,” Ali said.

Earlier this month, residents discovered anti-Muslim graffiti at a CityLink bus stop. That same week, graffiti targeted toward the Jewish community was found at various locations on the Bradley University campus.

“What is our responsibility is to protect our residents,” Ali said. “So when incidents like this happen in terms of hate language, graffiti, on buildings, graffiti on public sidewalks and infrastructure, we are obligated to protect our residents from any kind of violent acts for many types of hate crimes.

“That’s what we are charged with; the ceasefire resolution is not what we are charged with. We will take all means — whether it's police protection, trying to bring groups together to talk, trying to just really create a better awareness within the community — we'll do everything that we can to try to stop those types of activities within Peoria.”

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.