The opportunity afforded me by iBi to write a column every two months is a valuable and useful communication tool for the mayor’s office. Readers of this increasingly important, informative magazine will recognize that I often use this space to reflect on long-term considerations and needs, as I did in April to discuss the advantages of a strengthened agreement with Illinois American Water. Other times, I choose a more immediate topic, such as the City’s annual spending plan, which impacts everyone in Peoria on a daily basis. As we approach the official beginning of summer on Saturday, June 21st, it seems a good time to address the unique challenges our public safety team faces with the advent of warmer weather.

The summer months are a welcome time of year, when all the pent-up frustrations of dealing with an unusually cold and trying winter finally break loose. With this comes special challenges for Peoria’s police and fire departments as more people are out and about—in their yards and on their porches… tuning up and riding their motorcycles… cooking out and celebrating family and community. With help from the city manager, I recently asked what priorities and initiatives our fire and police departments have scheduled to make this summer as safe, secure and enjoyable as possible.

Obviously, Police and Fire operate within the City of Peoria’s overall managerial, operational and financial structure. I am proud of all of our departments, but considering Police and Fire comprise over half of the city’s total operating budget of $138 million—and represent nearly 70 percent of our overall manpower of 673—it is appropriate to focus on their summer priority list. What they do impacts our residents every day.

Fire Department Training and Upgrades
The Peoria Fire Department has an enviable record of constant training, emergency-situation planning, fire-fighting response and suppression, and cooperation with other governmental agencies. Their continuous pursuit of excellence will be demonstrated through the following initiatives in the next few months.

At the top of the list is a special partnership with Illinois Central College and its fire service associate’s degree program, which will utilize the Peoria Fire Department’s personnel and training academy. This state-of-the-art facility not only services Peoria’s immediate training needs, but affords support to other firefighting organizations as well.

A second priority this summer—particularly in light of last November’s tornado and this spring’s storm devastation in many southern states—is the replacement of outdoor warning sirens. The old, cone-shaped rotating sirens are being upgraded and replaced with new, cylindrical sirens featuring voice messaging, Twitter, Facebook and email capabilities. Closely related is upgraded emergency training for first responders who man the Emergency Operations Center during a significant weather-related or man-made event, such as a major industrial or transportation-related accident.

Understanding that planning is critical to response and containment, the Fire Department will host a multi-agency disaster “tabletop exercise.” This is a full simulation of a disaster involving all of the major local agencies—Police and Fire, the Red Cross, OSF, Advanced Medical Transport, utilities and the health department. The exercise will involve a tornado touchdown from Spalding Avenue to Spring Street/Perry Street to the Illinois River—conducted from the safety of a room equipped with all kinds of virtual-reality technologies.

Completing the Fire Department’s top five priorities this summer is another multi-agency training exercise. This one involves very somber training with fire, police, school districts and emergency services personnel dealing with a shooter. We pray it never happens, but being prepared is one important step in prevention.

Police Leadership: Abating Violence
The Peoria Police Department continues its leadership in a number of critical areas aimed at deterring violence, encouraging neighborhood vigilance and individual responsibility, and collaboration with other law enforcement agencies.

Warmer weather brings out the best in most people, but unfortunately, it also means an increase in gun-related violence. Abating gun violence is at the top of the Department’s list, as demonstrated through the “Don’t Shoot” strategy with cooperating law enforcement organizations, and through the Shotspotter program to quickly identify offenders and prevent greater violence from ensuing.

Closely related to “Don’t Shoot” are two new initiatives to be rolled out this summer. “Peoria Community Against Violence” and “Summer Night Lights” represent community-led outreach efforts emphasizing personal responsibility and evening activities like outdoor basketball. I am very grateful for all the volunteers involved in these programs.

The training and deployment of new police officers is a top priority in the coming weeks and months. The achievement of full-personnel strength has been a major goal, and it is critical to get the new hires through training and on the street as soon as possible. Police presence translates directly into prevention, and the Department is focused on that mission. Another program directly related to the summer months is “Safe Summer Events.” Working with the successful E.L.I.T.E. group, the Department is committed to safe, violence-free summer festivals and other outdoor events.

Completing the Police Department’s priority list is the launching of a new “resident officer” for Peoria’s south side. Currently, two resident officers are in place on the East Bluff and central city area, garnering a favorable neighborhood response through increased law enforcement visibility and accessibility.

The Peoria Police and Fire departments are among the finest and most professional anywhere. These special efforts are just part of the ongoing strategy of pursuing public safety excellence. Here’s to a safe and enjoyable summer! iBi