United for Peace: What Peoria’s shooting data says about community violence

A police line spans a Peoria homicide scene from April 27, 2022.
A police line spans a Peoria homicide scene from April 27, 2022.(25 News / Heart of Illinois ABC)
Updated: Jan. 26, 2023 at 7:00 PM CST
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PEORIA (25 News Now) - At a glance, all of Peoria’s shooting data shows a downward trend. Shooting incidents, shooting victims, and murders by guns are all down by at least 26%.

Zooming out, 2022 isn’t so favorable compared to the past five years. From 2018 to the present, 2022 holds the second-place spot for most gun homicides. Overall, Peoria Police Department Crime Analyst Jacob Moushon said 2022 is the fourth-highest year on record.

“It’s great to see that we’re on that trend but it’s important to keep that still in the conversation,” Moushon said.

2021 is one of the deadliest years for gun violence in recent history, with 143 gunshot victims, 27 gunshot-related deaths, and 122 shooting incidents. 2022, by comparison, has 106 shooting victims, 20 deaths by gunshot wounds, and 88 shooting incidents.

Gunshot homicide totals over the past five years
Gunshot homicide totals over the past five years(WEEK)
The number of gunshot victims from the past five years.
The number of gunshot victims from the past five years.(WEEK)

To make outliers even more complicated, 2020 saw a drop in homicides possibly due to stay-at-home practices for the COVID-19 pandemic. There were 14 homicides for the whole of 2020, all of them gunshot related.

For the past year, nearly all of the victims are African American, 90%.

Victim services are becoming an increasingly important part of police response to violent crimes. Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority Research Analyst Emilee Green studied an on-the-ground crisis response program in Chicago, similar to Peoria Community Against Violence initiatives.

Her study found that crisis responders helped victims and survivors of crime long after the incident occurred. Counselors helped surviving families navigate the criminal justice system, and connected them to other survivors who could relate to their experience.

What she and counselors in Chicago found was helping survivors and victims weren’t limited to immediate family, but the surrounding community as well.

“It wouldn’t be just immediate family but friends, cousins, others in the community who are affected and interested in these services as well. There really is a community impact when a homicide occurs,” Green said.

When the dip and subsequent rise from the past two years, Moushon said he tries to flatten out outliers to get a full story. What he’s seeing outside of the raw count of incidents shows a dangerous trend. More and more often, kids and teenagers are getting involved in gun violence. In 2020, 15 people who received gunshot wounds were juveniles. In 2021, that jumped to 27 and went down to 25 in 2022. The number of wounded juveniles nearly triples when comparing years further back, according to Moushon.

Juveniles tend to start with less deadly crimes, like shoplifting or vandalism and may work their way up to violence over a long period of time.

“That increase is now shrinking,” Moushon said. “That means they’re becoming more violent, quicker.”

PPD is also finding guns and becoming a driving factor of crimes across the board. Moushon likens it to the source of rushing water. The flow of gun violence trickles out into other areas of crime, like theft, carjacking, etc. Whether a gun is present, used to intimidate someone into giving up their care for instance, or if it’s the motivation behind the crime, like stealing weapons from a store.

It’s more than just monitoring data, Moushon uses crime statistics to direct police action. Shooting and crime data have been used to invest in technology like ShotSpotter, and change how many officers are on the street at what times.

He said they can pinpoint trends in crime down to streets and times of the day. Moushon said they’ve implemented “directed patrols,” where officers increase their presence in a high-crime area while also informing the public of what they’re doing.

“We can have all the technology, we can have the best officers in the city but the people on the street living in the neighborhoods actually know what’s going on,” Moushon said. He wants to focus on building that trust so community members feel safe approaching detectives with tips and information following a crime.

Victim support can help improve those community and police relationships once police and crisis responders learn to work in tandem, according to Green.

“There’s an opportunity there for the police to show ‘we are really trying to work with you all,’ Green said. “They kind of have conflicting goals, of course [police] want to be there for the victim’s family but they have their own things they need to accomplish as well while at the crime scene.”

PPD received 725 tips through tip411, an anonymous texting service to give information to police. Those “absolutely” contribute to the detective’s ability to find and arrest suspects.

Moushon said PPD knows addressing the root causes of crime such as poverty, education, and lack of resources, can bring those deadly numbers down., but it toes the line of where policing ends and community work begins.

“A police officer’s job is law enforcement,” Moushon said. “There’s a balance between working in the community and being law enforcement officers.”