Seven target offenders accept offer to change criminal lifestyle

By Marshanna Hester

October 31, 2013 Updated Oct 31, 2013 at 10:15 AM CDT

PEORIA, Ill. -- This is the room where the second Don't Shoot call-in took place.

Twenty-two target offenders sat in a semi-circle of chairs, to take in a message from law enforcement: stop the violence or you will go to jail.

Surrounding them were 47 pictures, pictures of those who didn't listen before.

Three of them were in the first call-in last December.

"The men that were in the room, most recognize most of those pictures on the wall and they know those gentlemen," said Peoria Police Chief Steve Settingsgaard. "It's a demonstration we are serious. We're not just predicting something that's going to happen."

Law enforcement told them they are focused on the most violent group and the next group to commit murder.

Each of the 22 men were instructed to pass that message on to whichever gang they belong.

They are also given a choice to choose a new path and the resources to do so.

"Optimism is a hard, hard sell. Hope is a hard, hard sell," said Peoria County State's Attorney Jerry Brady. "It's that obstacle I think we have to try to convince them they can overcome."

In hopes of helping them, Chief Settingsgaard told the story of Albert Billups Jr..

The 8 year old was shot to death in August 2011 while sleeping in his room.

He asked each of them find their youth again and use those dreams to fuel new ones.

"There's still an 8-year-old boy in me. There's still one in them," he said. "None of them did want to grow up to be who they are and all of them thought they were going to be somebody."

In the end, seven out of the 22 men reached out for help.

"Many of these individuals have very basic needs and we really need to get to the bottom of those and see how we can best get them into services as quickly as possible," said Krista Coleman, Peoria Police Department's Community Service Coordinator.

Law enforcement and the community can only now hope the others will one day feel the same.

If not, they know where they could end up.

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