What is “Don’t Shoot?”
It’s an aggressive multi-strategy anti-gang and gun violence program designed to decrease shootings and get the most dangerous criminals off the streets. Led by Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis, the initiative creates partnerships among federal, state and local prosecutors, law enforcement, outreach specialists, community leaders and media. Never before has Peoria seen such comprehensive collaboration from key stakeholders in implementing a zero-tolerance message towards violence.
The centerpiece of the program is a focused deterrence strategy enhanced by an innovative community-wide education and outreach program crafted to thoroughly incorporate all segments of the citizenry of the Greater Peoria area. Using offender-based policing strategies, police and prosecutors send a specific message to a number of high-risk individuals that gun violence will not be tolerated. Then, the strategy includes communication about community programs that will provide services to help them on the road to a better and more productive life. As part of the message, these high-risk individuals are told that any future gun violence will result in the full force of federal and state law enforcement. They are put on notice and they know law enforcement eyes are on them.
Where did this program come from?
The “Don’t Shoot” initiative is born out of a book written by David M. Kennedy titled, “Don’t Shoot, One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America.” He is the director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control and a professor of criminal justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and co-chair of the National Network for Safe Communities.
Why is Peoria establishing a “Don’t Shoot” program?
First and foremost, this is about saving lives and reducing the number of people impacted by gun crimes. It’s also important to note that when a shooting occurs it goes beyond the victim—it impacts the community. Crime not only reduces property values, business activity and quality of life, it also affects cities financially. Research shows a single shooting can cost a city up to $1.2 million.
How does it work?
The first step in implementing the program is to identify the most violent street gangs in Peoria. To achieve this, the Peoria Police Department used computer analysis to conduct a “hot spot” analysis on gun crime in the city. Then they matched the gun crime with known violators and identified the gang membership of those violators. Using this method, they were able to identify the most violent gangs in Peoria. Once the most violent gangs were identified, the FBI focused their Safe Streets Task Force on the most violent gang in Peoria. The FBI Safe Streets Task Force is composed of agents and officers from the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Internal Revenue Service, Peoria Police Department, Peoria County Sheriff’s Department and the Illinois State Police. The work of the Safe Streets Task Force continues against that most violent gang. With the law enforcement component of the program underway, Mayor Ardis and the task force turned to the community piece of the focused deterrence strategy. A vital element of any successful focused deterrence strategy is the involvement and support of the community. Without community buy-in and support the program will not work.
What’s the role of the Peoria Public Library and Common Place in the “Don’t Shoot” program?
Every year, the Peoria Public Library and Common Place sponsor the citywide reading of a book through the Peoria Reads! program. Author David M. Kennedy’s book, “Don’t Shoot,” is this year’s selection because it’s the inspiration for Peoria’s gang and gun violence program. During the months of August and September, the book will be divided into four segments and each week for four weeks residents and book clubs in the Peoria area will be encouraged to read and discuss a part of the book. To help lead that discussion, and as part of the Peoria Reads! “Don’t Shoot” program, Mayor Ardis along with Peoria County State’s Attorney Jerry Brady and United States Attorney Jim Lewis, will host a radio show on WCBU-FM 89.9, a public radio station in Peoria. The show will include other panel members, such as Peoria Police Chief Steven Settingsgaard and Peoria County Sheriff Mike McCoy. Each week, the panel will discuss that week’s reading with a local guest and then discuss the same reading with a national guest.
How can children and young adults partake in the program?
A good deal of the above community outreach is aimed at adults in the community. In order to reach the youth in the community the Mayor and the members of the “Don’t Shoot” task force have adopted a proven successful school anti-gun violence program implemented by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Carolina. Mayor Ardis is working with Peoria’s District 150 to implement the program in the fall of 2012 at about the same time as the Peoria Reads! program is ending.
What does the school program entail?
There are four components to the school program. First, the program uses the Student Pledge Against Gun Violence. The pledge is signed by the student at school and is a voluntary promise that they will never carry a gun to school, will never resolve a personal problem or a dispute with a gun, and will use their influence with their friends to keep them from resolving disputes with guns. The second is a speaker’s bureau where Mayor Ardis and other members of the task force will make anti-gun violence presentations to the students throughout the school district. Third, is a “Stop Gun Violence” poster contest. It is hoped that the task force can turn the top three posters from four age groups into a “Don’t Shoot” 2013 wall calendar. The fourth is a reading program modeled after the Peoria Reads! program, but using age appropriate books dealing with the issue of gun violence.
How is Don’t Shoot different from past initiatives?
A few years ago, Peoria used a focused deterrence strategy known as Drug Market Intervention (DMI) to address drug “hot spots” in the city. Although the program was initially a success, the city ran into severe budget problems, which resulted in cutbacks at the Police Department as well as the program getting discontinued. The focused deterrence strategy, however, received high marks from everyone involved. They agreed that the problem was not the strategy, but the lack of continuing resources sufficient to make the strategy work. By increasing the resource base and expanding the number of participating agencies along with strong commitments from the FBI, ATF, IRS, Peoria Police Department and the Peoria County Sheriff’s Department, the task force believes it has sufficient resources to make a focused deterrence strategy work.
Has the “Don’t Shoot” program been successful?
Yes. The program piloted in Boston in the 1990s and has been deployed in over 70 cities across the United States. Areas where the crime-fighting interventions worked with compelling results include:
· High Point, N.C.—53 percent decrease in violent crime
· Cincinnati—43 percent reduction in overall homicides
· Lowell, Mass.—28 percent drop in monthly gun violence
· Boston—63 percent less homicides in ages 24 and under
· Indianapolis—34 percent decline in homicide
· Stockton, Calif.—43 percent decrease in gun homicides
How will we measure the program’s success?
There are several moving pieces to the “Don’t Shoot” program. In order to determine whether the overall program and its individual pieces are working to reduce gun violence it will be necessary to establish a set of metrics, track those metrics and study which individual strategies and combination of strategies are effective. In order to do that work it will be necessary for the task force to employ a research partner. Dr. Jay Gilliam, an assistant professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Illinois at Springfield, has agreed to work with the “Don’t Shoot” task force to measure the effectiveness of the overall program and its various pieces in reducing gang gun violence in the Greater Peoria area. A noticeable reduction in gang and gun violence is the main objective of this plan. If Peoria can replicate the success the program has had in other cities, like High Point, N.C., where crime has plummeted by 53 percent, it should see a difference quickly and significantly. But for positive results, there needs to be a community-wide intolerance for gang and gun crime.
What can the community do?
It’s imperative that the community participates and supports this program and its strategies to interrupt the cycle of violence. Citizens can do this by: · Reporting suspicious activity· Strengthening ties with police · Attending neighborhood association meetings and/or joining a Neighborhood Watch group · Reading Kennedy’s book with family, friends and co-workers, and discussing the goals and objectives of the program Free copies of “Don’t Shoot” are available, but quantities are limited. Contact Alyce Jackson, Peoria Public Library, at 497-2143, or Connie Voss, Common Place, at 674-3315, to reserve a copy.
Where can I learn more about this initiative and planned events?
Visit DontShootPeoria.com for the latest information on community events, including a schedule for the book discussion and radio show series, upcoming dates for community forums and progress on the school anti-gun violence program. Also read personal stories from those impacted by gun violence and access the latest gun crime statistics in Peoria.
For the Don't Shoot Community Roundtable Discussions Podcasts, click HERE.