PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — New steps to address violence in Peoria are moving forward as the program Cure Violence held its first series of nine public workshops on Monday.

While strategic planning in 2019, the Peoria County Board of Health started looking at the leading causes of death locally. For one age group, the answer was harrowing.

“We really could not ignore the fact that for our 15 to 34-year-olds, the leading cause of death is gun violence,” said Monica Hendrickson, Peoria City/County Health Department administrator.

After being rejected by Peoria City Council, the Peoria County Board of Health approved $25,000 in funding for an assessment from Cure Violence Global in July.

Cure Violence is a public health intervention program that treats gun violence as a disease.

“Individuals who are more likely to commit acts of violence are those individuals that have been exposed to violence,” said Dr. Frederick Echols, CEO of Cure Violence Global.

Under its model, Cure Violence hires and trains trusted and credible community members to serve as violence interrupters.

“Those individuals are able to interrupt acts of violence because of the relationships they have with individuals in the community,” Echols said.

The program also connects those at the highest risk of committing violence to case management services and works to change social norms through community engagement.

During its implementation in St. Louis, Dr. Echols said homicides dropped by 26 percent in 2021.

“We didn’t just see a reduction in the catchment area, but across the city,” Echols said.

Echols added that making violence hotspots safer sets up cities for additional success.

“Safety leads to economic growth, which leads to additional employment, which further feeds into our narrative which is to help people live the best life they possibly can,” Echols said.

Hendrickson said that the program won’t end gun violence alone, but it can be part of the solution.

“Programs such as ELITE, Boys and Girls club–all those programs play a part. Community Development, making our neighborhoods safer with lighting, cleaner streets–all of those are part of it. This is going to take more than just one thing, but for our most acute level, this is what we need,” Hendrickson said.

If Cure Violence is implemented, Hendrickson said there could be a mixed-model of funding opportunities including local, state, and dollars through foundations.

Prior to implementation, Cure Violence will create a final report to determine if the program is right for Peoria.

There are Cure Violence workshops scheduled through Wednesday in Peoria.