PEORIA Ill. (WMBD) — The subject of violence in Peoria is dominating conversations at both the city and county levels.
Seven months into 2022 Peoria has had multiple carjackings, more than 2,800 shots fired, and 14 homicides. The last four murders happened in the first 16 days of July.
Peoria Police Chief Eric Echevarria said the rising temperatures are contributing factors to the uptick in crime.
“It’s warmer out, there are more people out,” Echevarria said. “So, we’re seeing a direct correlation with that.”
Echevarria said even with the summer uptick, crime is still down compared to this same time last year.
“The numbers are down, but we still have numbers,” Echevarria said. “We still have a lot of work to do, and we’re going to continue to do the work that we’ve been doing.”
One of those initiatives police have put in place includes having officers like Marques Smith live in the neighborhoods they serve.
“My job is to always be available and ready at any particular moment,” Smith said. “My job is to make them [residents and city leaders] feel comfortable and to pretty much have an officer at their disposal at any given moment that they feel something is going wrong within the community.”
Smith is one of five resident officers in Peoria. He’s stationed on West Kettelle Street on the city’s south side.
He said he wears numerous hats and has helped with code enforcement, parking enforcement, and patrol while also going out to build relationships with community members in the hopes to establish trust, helping bridge the gap between people and police, and preventing crime.
“You want the residents within the community to feel comfortable with you so that they can contact you and know that something is going to get done,” Smith said.
Ernestine Sims has lived in her neighborhood on Evans street for 17 years. She lives around the corner from another resident officer on Northeast Madison Street.
“If I have an emergency or something, I do feel safe by calling them, and they do come,” Sims said.
But while feeling better with an officer in the area, Sims still questions why violence seems to be an everyday occurrence.
“I just don’t understand how are all these killings going on when the officers are right here,” Sims said.
Smith said crime is inevitable, but he does believe the resident officer program works, and he said combating crime has to be a team effort.
“Anyone who would ask is this working, I would tell anyone crime happens everywhere … I can’t stop everything,” Smith said. “We can’t stop where it’s going to happen, or we can’t predict where it’s going to occur next. That’s why building a relationship with the community plays a role because you just never know who’s going to find out something before it can actually happen.”
He said the public should never be afraid to reach out to the police, no matter which neighborhood they live in. He said resident officers may live in one neighborhood, but the goal is to help curb violence for all.