In 2012, the city of Peoria hailed the Don’t Shoot program as a new, intuitive response to gun violence. The term became synonymous with the police department’s approach to violent crimes. 

Peoria Police Chief Jerry Mitchell says it is hard to gauge the program’s effectiveness, but it cannot be done without consideration of two primary factors: gun violence and deterrence. 

“One thing you measure is the amount of gun violence,” Mitchell says. “Did it increase? Did it decrease? Did it stay the same?” 

Since 2013, the city of Peoria lost 44 people to gun violence, compared to 50 murders from 2008 to 2012 when the program started.

As of November 2017, the number of shootings and shooting victims is slightly lower.

“I wanted to see probably a little bit more in a decrease in gun violence at this point,” adds Mitchell,”but we will take where we’re at. And maybe we are not comfortable with it but we’re okay.”

Mitchell’s reasoning is because he’s not just looking at the number of times people pull the trigger but also the steps being made to keep people from doing it. Much of that has to do with major changes to Peoria’s prized anti-gun violence initiative. In fact, the police department wants to distance itself from the program’s title.

“We’ve gotta get out of the business of calling it Don’t Shoot because Don’t Shoot was the name attached to get the message out,” says Mitchell. “It’s the strategy behind it that has all the meaning and that can be applied to everything we do.” 

The department calls this strategy “focused deterrence” — the idea of identifying and concentrating efforts on specific people, then intervening before gun violence. Such intervention comes happens two different ways under the program: arrest or rehabilitation. The latter is where community outreach manager Angel Cruz comes into play. 

“The bottom line we want them to know that they have support in helping them change their lifestyle,” says Cruz. 

In 2016, Cruz took over an integral part of Don’t Shoot — the “call-in.”  People identified under the program by authorities are offered services to get on the right track. This, too, has undergone significant changes. The men are no longer called “target offenders,” but “candidates” or “clients.” In years past, they were welcomed into a room with mugshots lining the walls of people arrested under Don’t Shoot. 

“We no longer have posters,” says Cruz. “We’ve eliminated the posters.” 

Services like G.E.D. programs, E.L.I.T.E. re-entry, and culinary arts programs, are now immediately available for candidates after call-ins. Representatives of community are readily available to get the clients plugged into their programs, not waiting to receive a call before making their pitch. Also, family members and loved ones– once held in separate rooms during the call-in — now join the clients during the session. 

From December 2012 to June 2017, 252 candidates sat through a call-in. Of them, 83 have not been re-arrested. Overall, Cruz says 31 percent have reached out for services.

Mitchell admits he’s not comfortable with the state of gun violence in Peoria. But for now, he’s convinced this is the best way to do the job. 

“If we didn’t have focused deterrence, what would this community look like? It would be a lot more violent — that we know.” 

Chief Mitchell says Peoria Community Against Violence, or PCAV, is also vital to the success of preventing gun violence. That program, which focuses on engaging the community, is also undergoing significant changes in leadership and philosophy. 

Thursday, Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis, along with Don’t Shoot organizers, will be updating the community on the program.