DIGGING DEEPER: Summer gun violence in the River City

Published: Jul. 28, 2022 at 8:40 PM CDT
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PEORIA (25 News Now) - July is ending up a violent month so far in the River City.

The month alone has seen nearly two-dozen shooting incidents and four gun-related homicides - those with an average victim age of just over 20.

But, at this point in 2022 compared to 2021, these numbers are considered an improvement.

“Year to date, we are down 35% in shooting incidents, 28% in shooting victims, 27% in shooting murders and 18% in all murders,” Peoria Police Chief Eric Echevarria said.

Chief Echevarria says a violent summer is something the department has come to expect.

July is the deadliest month of the year, with total of 14 homicides in Peoria each July since 2018. The next-deadliest month is June, with a combined 13.

“We start to see – slowly – an uptick coming in May. June really starts the uptick, and July is always probably our highest,” crime analyst Jacob Moushon said.

Moushon keeps a detailed record of every violent arrest, looking for data trends in victim age, location, time, and even average daily temperature.

He says as the months grow hotter, the victims are getting younger.

“We have 15 juveniles shot already this year. Previous years, you’re talking 12 in the entire year,” Moushon said. “We’re seeing, not only juveniles shot more, but juveniles being involved in these shootings.”

Since 2018, in the summer months of May to August, there are 243 gunshot victims - nearly half of Peoria’s five-year total (516).

More than 12% of victims in the last five years are between the ages of 11 and 17, and of that group, five were homicides.

“It’s an unimaginable shock that people go through, and then we have to try to provide comfort to that,” Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood said. “Of course, people want answers – why did this happen? How did this happen? Why does it continue to happen?”

These are questions Peoria crime analysts are using numbers to try to answer.

Moushon says he is confident their numbers and analyses are accurate, but unexpected factors skew the data.

He adds the data drawn from COVID-19 shutdown during 2020 and 2021 is considered an anomaly.

“We saw an increase in some crimes and a decrease in other crimes that we thought would maybe increase as more people were isolated at home,” Moushon said.

Moushon adds not everything is solved by numbers, and community leaders agree as they work to determine why gun violence keeps happening.

“It’s almost like they’re glorifying it – this is the way we get even, this is the way we solve our disputes. This is the way - if I don’t like you - I can just shoot you,” anti-violence advocate Gloria Clark said.

Clark has spent years working to solve Peoria’s gun violence issue, and believes the city is full of opportunities for young men and women who want them.

“It’s just a lack of things that they WANT to do. Because there isn’t a lack of things TO do,” Clark said.

The police chief agrees, claiming the young adults who commit gun violence have no particular motive.

“There is no money behind it, there is no leadership, there is no hierarchy in it. They are just causing chaos,” Echevarria said.

The chief adds right now, the ultimate tool to prevent gun violence is community engagement.

“There was somebody in the vehicle with them – there was somebody walking on the street with them. Somebody knows,” Echevarria said. “There aren’t many secrets in Peoria – it’s a big city, but it’s not as big as people will think.”

Echevarria adds resources, like the anonymous Tip411 app, are making community engagement easier. The app has logged more than 300 tips since it launched in January.

“We definitely have our pulse on where the issues are, but what we need is for the community to be apart of that,” Echevarria said.

Echevarria said the gun violence numbers do show the need for an increase in police patrols, but he says with 200 officers in a city of more than 100,000 people, community collaboration and support is essential to reduce the violence.

“You see the Police Department, you see CrimeStoppers. You see all these different organizations that are trying to save our community,” Clark said.

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