CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — The tally of the number of people hurt or killed by gun violence this year in Champaign hit 46 following a deadly shooting Tuesday at N 3rd Street and E Beardsley Avenue. Rashaud Weatherall, 25, died and two others were injured at what Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup described as a family party, totaling three victims in the first four days of October.

Nine people were shot in September, matching July as the month with the most victims so far in 2022.

WCIA reporters last sat down with police leadership in mid-July. Then, Chief Tim Tyler touted that police received half the number of shots fired calls as they had by the middle of 2021.

The gap has closed some since then. Still, about 15 more people had fallen victim to gun violence at this point last year than to date in 2022. That said, 2021 was a record-breaking year and not necessarily the benchmark.

If the shooting rate the city is experiencing now continues, Champaign may see as many people hurt and killed as in 2020.

There have been six gun-related murders this year, which was the total at the end of October two years ago and while 2021 holds the grim record, 2020 brought with it the biggest increase in violence from a previous year, by far.

“One shooting is one too many,” Deputy Chief Geoff Coon said Wednesday of the six lives lost to gun violence this year. (The city’s homicide total is eight for the year so far.)

But after 16 losses last year, Deputy Chief Coon said the department is focusing on more immediate improvement, in part thanking the city’s gun violence reduction blueprint.

City Council approved the plan at the end of 2021, setting aside $6.2 million to invest in youth programs, re-entry services, the county’s anonymous crime reporting resource (Crime Stoppers), and other new and existing programs. Funds also went toward filling in gaps at the police department.

The plan was tailored after two out-of-state programs in California with a successful track record.

Renée: Is Champaign as a city on track to see these types of reduction in gun violence?
DC Coon: I really don’t want to comment on that right now. And the reason I don’t is I think we’re still early in this process. I’m optimistic that the approach will yield positive results, but I would prefer to see how things play out further down the road when we have more time to evaluate the program as a whole. Some of the measures are more short-term, and some are certainly long-term. And so I think time will tell on how that will play out. And I’m optimistic, like I said, that it’s going to be fruitful and productive.

As for what’s behind the increase in gun-related crime in the last couple of months as compared to the start of the year: “I don’t think anything’s changed,” Coon said.

“I think we’re still moving in the right direction.”

Renée: But there wasn’t any sort of pattern to point to, or the time of year, or anything that led to an increase of the last couple of months?
DC Coon: No, I don’t think that would be an accurate assessment.

Although the gap between 2021 and 2022 statistics has closed some since July, people appear to be firing guns less in the city this year. Police data tallied 49% fewer shots fired incidents compared to this time in 2021, 27% fewer than in 2020.

Renée: Is it still primarily a retaliatory issue, the gun violence we’re seeing?
DC Coon: So, fortunately, we’re not seeing as much of that as we saw last year in 2021. Actually, the majority of our homicides this year have been domestic-related. We had some retaliatory shootings, of course. And so we certainly work up all the investigation, try to determine that, and seek out our resources within the community to try to get intelligence to help prevent those types of actions.
Renée: That’s interesting. So this year, we are seeing a decrease in the number of young people retaliating against each other. Is there anything you can point to that that speaks to why that’s happening?
DC Coon: Well, I think it’s a combination of things, collaboration within the community. That’s our number one resource. Cooperation is what helps solve these crimes, technological advances, the Crime Stoppers program that we have that’s very robust. We get a lot of information through that, thankfully, which is, obviously, an anonymous outlet to report crime information, just the collaborative effort with other city departments and social service resources. I think that joint effort amongst all these different agencies has really helped a general reduction in violent crime.

Shootings continue to be targeted, he said, which is consistent with what the city has seen for the past couple of years.

“People with long-standing feuds, I guess you could say,” Coon added. “But like I said before, at least this year that has been down as far as retaliation goes.”

In another milestone, aside from the gun-related murder Tuesday, Champaign police made arrests in every murder so far this year, according to a department spokesperson.

“I think like you said, though, with 2021 being a very violent year for this community, this area, we’ve certainly made some strides to address that, and I feel like we’re moving in the right direction. We still have a lot of work ahead of us, we understand that,” the deputy chief concluded.

“People want to be safe in their residence, safe in their community, and we’re going to do what we can to make that happen.”