PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — The year 2021 in Peoria began with a goodbye.
Loren Marion, III, former Peoria Police Chief, retired after 26 years with the department, two of which he spent as the city’s head cop.
“26 years in law enforcement, all my 26 years here, it’s been a great career,” Marion said back in January.
Before handing over the ranks, Marion described who he thought would be best fit to fill the role.
“I think that they should be community-oriented,” Marion said back in January. “You know, one of the things that we’ve pushed for several years now is the community-policing aspect.”
According to Patrick Urich, Peoria’s city manager, after a nationwide search — that’s exactly what the city got a few months later.
Marion’s departure led to former Assistant Police Chief Doug Theobald stepping in as Interim Chief until the department and city welcomed a new face in July — Eric Echevarria.
Echevarria, a former police commander in Elgin Illinois who’s worked in the field for more than 20 years, was officially sworn in as the new police chief on July 30.
“Since July, it’s been trying to get to know the community and the community’s been lovely,” Echevarria said.
Echevarria said Peoria’s residents and his fellow officers embraced him and his family. He said community engagement was one of his early goals to help get a feel for the area and strengthen the relationships between the people and police.
“The community has to feel like that can speak to us, the community has to feel that they can approach us,” Echevarria said. “There’s a new line of communication, it feels like. I think there’s a new feeling in the atmosphere that we can connect and we can speak and we can talk and we don’t always have to agree, but we’re starting to have some mutual respect for each other.”
Delving deeper into his role, he said he wanted to reduce crime, identify community expectations, enhance recruitment efforts, and evaluate technology.
He acknowledged the city’s record number of homicides for this year and said the conversations and communication between police and the public are the first steps in helping to reduce crime.
Echevarria also reflected on some of the initiatives the police department put in place this year — such as the 14 walk and talks. Starting in September, officers went door to door trying to meet the community where they were at in an effort to build relationships. Echevarria said this initiative will resume in the Spring and will continue for years to come until the police reach every part of the city.
He also said the department hass increased its social media presence after bringing on a new public information officer, Semone Roth.
He mentioned creating a recruitment team to help diversify the department and bring on more staff, and he said they were also able to create a youth advisory committee to meet with local high school students once a month starting in January.
“We will meet with these high school kids who will advise the chief of police on what they want to see,” Echevarria said. “I really wanna hear what they have to say, I want to understand them, and I want to be able to move in a positive direction with them.”
As 2022 approaches, the chief said he has new objectives in the hopes of elevating the city.
“Number one is to reduce serious crime, number two is to foster more community partnerships and relationships, number three is improve traffic safety, and number four is to promote employee development,” Echevarria said.
Other future prospects include bringing 30 officers on board in the new year, launching an anonymous text tip line, and working with state representative Jehan Gordon-Booth to create a co-response unit to address emotional distress and mental health crises as well as implement social workers in juvenile cases and adult investigations.
“We’re currently working on this model and what’s that going to look like and what’s legislation going to look like and though this is going to be big for Peoria.”
He said these initiatives are still just the beginning of more to come.