PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Shooting incidents, gun shot victims and homicides in Peoria were all down by more than 25 percent in 2022.

More than 500 weapons were taken off city streets, and Peoria Police Chief Eric Echevarria credits more than 200 of those to two gun buy back events held during the year. Both gun buy back events were so popular that they ran out of gift cards in hours.

“I’m happy to see those numbers go down, but I want to see the numbers go down more…Gun violence is a challenge, that’s a big challenge,” he said.

Shot Spotter alerts were down more than 30 percent from more than 1,700 alerts in 2021 to fewer than 1,200 in 2022.

Directed patrols yield success, reduction in Shot Spotter alerts

The Peoria Police Department conducted 21 directed patrols, where they increased their presence in targeted areas during the year.

“We went into the areas that we knew Shot Spotter alerts were showing that we were having issues,” said Echevarria.

The directed patrols resulted in more than 200 arrests out of nearly 700 traffic stops.

“We’re not out there to just arrest somebody because they’re driving, these minor infractions. We’re looking for these major issues that are directly correlated with gun violence,” said Echevarria.

But during those directed patrols, only 20 Shot Spotter alerts were recorded. Echevarria said it shows the patrols are making an impact.

“The response of the officers being out there during these directed patrols directly correlates with the numbers being lower,” he said.

Tip 411 text line connects police to anonymous tipsters

Echevarria said they received 725 anonymous tips through the new Tip 411 text line.

“We know there are people who are scared or nervous to come forward with information…Tip 411 fills in the blank areas we haven’t been able to. Crime Stoppers is great, you can get some information, but you can’t have a conversation with a tipster. Tip 411 allows for that back and forth communication and it’s still anonymous,” he said.

He said the hundreds of tips received indicates community trust in the police force is growing. Echevarria has also hired a community engagement specialist and a community relations crime prevention manager, two newly created positions, to strengthen ties to the community.

“It shows that we’re committed to our community relations. We’re not just saying we’re going to do this, we have hired positions to focus on that…We need people to continue to trust and build more trust with the community to gain more information,” Echevarria said.

2023 Goals and Initiatives

This year, Echevarria said they plan to focus more on car thefts and catalytic converter thefts. They are in talks with the Peoria County State’s Attorney and Sheriff to create an Auto Theft Task Force.

Moreover, Echevarria said they are expanding the Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) Task Force. While it’s primarily behind the scenes, the increased chances of landing federal charges sends a message of deterrence.

“People don’t want to go through the federal system. I think the word then spreads that there are federal charges coming through versus state or local charges. It carries quite a bit of weight,” he said.

Working with juveniles to decrease recidivism is also a priority. Echevarria said they are partnering with the Friendship House to put restorative measures in place to reduce recidivism.

“We really want to find those holistic remedies so we don’t continue to see some of the issues we’ve seen…If we can connect the right services to the right places and the right people, we hope to see some changes in those families, those juveniles, So they’re not here, they don’t see us,” he said.