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Mayors 'Desperate' To Halt Crime Rise That Started During COVID

Peoria, Ill., recorded a spike in violent crime through the pandemic that startled local leaders. Gun violence among young people was rising at a disturbing pace in a city that already had one of the nation's highest murder rates. Mayor Rita Ali needed a plan.

She hired a new police chief two months after taking office in 2021 who sought to make the police more visible and opened a tip line last year. The city launched a violence “interrupter” program. A community center started offering school tutoring, physical fitness classes and mentoring on how to handle conflicts without picking up a gun.

Politico asked 50 mayors, one from every state, what they considered to be the leading causes of crime in their cities.

Fifteen mayors mentioned drugs or addiction, 12 cited economic inequality, poverty or lack of opportunities, mentioned guns or illegal firearms, seven cited mental health and four mentioned theft of cars or other things.

Peoria still had a high rate of gun violence last year. Shootings and homicides fell roughly 26 percent, compared to 2021, a drop Ali and other local leaders attribute to the new programs.

“We’re looking block by block how we can address gun violence and really transform the situation within these hot spots,” said Ali, the first Black woman to lead Peoria, a city 160 miles southwest of Chicago. “We think if we can interrupt the violence within these hot spots, that it’s going to have a collective impact within our community.”

Leaders of communities of all sizes are desperate to restore the broad, steady declines in violence that preceded COVID-19. What’s happening is an experimentation with anti-crime methods that respect the protests that eruptedafter the police killing of George Floyd in 2020.

How mayors address the issue of public safety will decide their political fate, whether their cities prosper or stagnate, and to what degree their residents can live without fear for their lives or their family.

Nearly half of the 50 mayors said public safety was the single most pressing issue in their communities.

Ali and mayors all over are grappling with a similar surge in violence, anchored with the responsibility of reducing crime rates with limited money and limited power. It’s a confluence of forces that leave mayors exasperated — often feeling boxed in by a frightened public and an intractable problem.

Mayors discussed their search for solutions to many of the same problems: Understaffed police departments facing low morale — and a public uneasiness with the people hired to protect them. A steady flow of illegal guns. Inflamed and inaccurate rhetoric. State lawmakers who get in their way. And insufficient funds. “It's a very volatile situation,” Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb, a Democrat, said of crime in his city. “We can have a very safe month, then you can have a mass shooting and the next month is challenging.”

Just three mayors surveyed said their constituents were not concerned about crime.


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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