Peoria Police host picnic for residents

By Joe Bennett

July 13, 2013 Updated Jul 13, 2013 at 11:09 PM CDT

PEORIA, Ill -- Peoria Police want to increase their positive presence in the city's more troubled neighborhoods.

Saturday the department held two picnics in the city, sending a positive message for residents and a warning for criminals on the South Side and East Bluff.

Peoria Police Chief Steve Settingsgaard says it's time to create more communication with Peorians in those neighborhoods.

“Toughest neighborhood, toughest block in the city, most people on that block are still good people," Settingsgaard says.

It's not to keep an eye on the neighborhood, according to Settingsgaard.

Rather, it's to let residents see some police presence, and not just when police are called to a crime or dispute.

Neighborhood Development Specialist Steve Fairbanks says most members of the South Side community do not blame police for problems with crime.

"We need to really start addressing the issues of unsupervised kids out in the streets and some of the behavior that we see exhibited toward the police officers and the neighbor," Fairbanks says.

Just one year after Peoria began its "Don't Shoot" campaign, crime report numbers show crime is down in the city.

Police say now is the time to let residents know the department is here for them.

"It's really important for the officers to meet residents, really on a friendly basis,” says Fairbanks, “because they're out there a lot of time dealing with people that aren't so friendly.”

"When we kept seeing the cars go by, we thought something bad was happening,” says South Side resident Linda Thomas. “But then as we walked around we see that they was just doing something for the neighbors, something good, so it's good to see that."

Settingsgaard says increased police presence for neighborhood gatherings like this picnic do not just serve to guarantee residents the police are on their side.

It also sends a message to those who give the South Side and East Bluff a bad reputation.

"We're still working the plan,” Settingsgaard says. “And we're working on a couple of violent groups in Peoria right now that are going to have some surprises landing on their door steps pretty soon."