A violent year in Cedar Rapids

December 28, 2014 | 5:00 am
People walk away after the vigil for Clifton Sparks on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2014, at the 1800 block of B Avenue NE in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Justin Wan/The Gazette)
Chapter 1:

Record levels of homicides, shootings reported in 2014

CEDAR RAPIDS — The year 2014 will go down as one of the most violent in Cedar Rapids's history.

Eight men and women were murdered in six incidents this year. The city had not topped three murders in a single year since 2006.

And on 93 occasions this year, police responded to shootings throughout the city.

There were 17 in July 2014 alone.

The previous annual record for shootings in the city was 64, in 2012. Five years ago, the city had only 18 shootings all year.

Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman calls 2014 a “difficult year.”

“It was very concerning because of the number of incidents,” Jerman said. “It was very concerning because the frequency of incidents.”

Yet despite the high levels of violence, there may be cause for hope. Of the shootings this year, more than half — 64 — occurred through July.

Shots fired incidents spike in summer months

About: Shown are the number of shots fired incidents for every month since 2008. Highlighted in red are the summer months from June to September. Typically, more incidents of shots fired are reported during these months. Rollover or click the bars for detailed information. Data is recent as of December 1.

Beginning in August, so-called shots-fired incidents trailed off considerably, something Jerman attributes in part to work by his officers and investigators.

Also, some “key individuals” involved in the shootings have been taken off the street, Jerman added.

There have been at least nine people arrested for shootings so far in 2014, according to police.

What violent crimes increased in 2014?

About: This chart compares incidents of violent crime from 2013 to 2014. Rollover or click a crime in the legend to highlight on chart. Click on a crime to hide and show it on the chart. In the legend, crimes are listed in the order from most to least reported in 2013. Data is recent as of December 1.

In addition, while Jerman lamented in April that his officers weren't getting enough information from witnesses and victims, he now says that statements from cooperative citizens have helped police make arrests in the shootings.

Finally, Jerman and other Cedar Rapids officers recently traveled to Kansas City, Mo., to learn about a model of police enforcement that dramatically has reduced homicides in that community.

Jerman is confident this “focused deterrence” model can have a positive effect on Cedar Rapids.

“I believe, still, the city is a safe city,” he said. “Gun violence is my No. 1 priority and will remain our No. 1 priority.”

Cedar Rapids Police, EMTs and firefighters respond to a shooting in the 1700 block of 4th Avenue SE in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, April 2, 2014. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG-TV9)
Chapter 2:

The murders

Cedar Rapids's spate of violence began on a brutally cold January morning. On Jan. 30 at 6:39 a.m. a shooting was reported at 3515 Banar Dr. SW, the home of 73-year-old Linda Huber.

Police said Huber and her daughter, 41-year-old Ingrid Huber Livingston, were gunned down by Livingston's husband, 47-year-old Robert Livingston.

 

Livingston took his own life after killing his wife and mother-in-law.

Only a few days later, on Feb. 4, police found the body of 31-year-old Clifton Sparks lying in the street in the 1800 block of B Avenue NE.

For months, police withheld details on Sparks's murder, but in September announced they had charged 23-year-old Robert L. Nash IV, of Cedar Rapids with first-degree murder.

Nash — who knew Sparks — is accused of robbing Sparks and shooting him once in the chest.

He is scheduled to go to trial April 13, 2015.

The city was hit with another domestic homicide on Feb. 21.

Police said Tama County man Dennis Koopman shot his estranged wife, Luella, in front of her condominium at 6124 Dean Rd. SW.

Koopman — whose mother said was distraught over the couple's pending divorce — took his own life after killing his wife.

Jerman said domestic homicides such as the ones involving the Livingstons and Koopmans — who, by all accounts, had no prior history of violence — are especially difficult to anticipate.

“It's very difficult to prevent,” he said.

“Can they be prevented? I think this is an area of domestic violence that needs continued awareness,” he added.

On April 2, 22-year-old Quintrell Perkins and 20-year-old Sierrah Simmons were found dead inside the home at 1708 Fourth Ave. SE.

No arrests have been made in the homicide, which remains the only murder in the city this year in which an arrest has not been made or the suspect did not take his own life.

“It's very much an active, ongoing investigation,” said Greg Buelow, the city's public safety spokesman.”

“The investigators continue to work on any leads and following up on those,” he added.

Reports of homicides increased in 2014

About: This chart shows the the number of victims as a result of homicide. This year, policed recorded six incidents with eight victims, as of December 1. Click "Victims" to see a list of the homicides victims. One incident has not resulted in an arrest, which is noted in red.

While the Perkins-Simmons homicide investigation was still fresh, police were called to 228 Jacolyn Dr. SW on April 4 for a “welfare check.”

Inside the apartment, police found the body of 37-year-old Shanna Beyhl, who had been stabbed to death.

Bobbie Little, who had been charged with second-degree theft for allegedly taking items from Beyhl, was charged with first-degree murder in June.

 

He's scheduled to go to trial May 18, 2015.

A third domestic homicide occurred on June 30. Police were called to 1808 Eastern Drive SW just before 5 p.m. for a welfare check.

Officers found 39-year-old Chantele Crowley dead inside and soon arrested her husband, 43-year-old Shawn Crowley on a first-degree murder charge.

Police said Chantele sought domestic-abuse protective orders from her husband on several occasions and as recently as a month before her death.

Crowley is scheduled to go to trial on Jan. 26.

A gunshot victim is carried to the ambulance as police respond to a shooting at the corner of Fourth Avenue SE and 18th Street in Cedar Rapids on Sunday evening, July 20, 2014. One male was shot in the leg. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG-TV9)
Chapter 3:

The shootings

Cedar Rapids police responded to at least one shooting in the city each month of 2014, with April, June and July all reaching double digits in incidents.

According to data provided by the police department, the shootings occurred throughout the city.

“It's a concern that they're happening anywhere in the city,” Jerman said. “One shooting or shots fired is too many.”

All shots fired incidents in 2014

 
 

In the spring, Jerman said that the shootings were predominately the work of a dozen or more suspects who were in dispute with one another.

While Jerman said there are suspects in the city who have been identified as gang members, police do not believe the shootings are gang-related.

“Whether it's a gang or not, it's unacceptable activity that cannot be tolerated,” he said.

“There are a number of motives,” he added. “The majority are having to do with a dispute or beef between groups of individuals.”

Shooting arrests: 2014

DateAddressName(s)
1/3/2014 5620 Johnson Ave Mariah Sprous
2/9/2014 1400 18th St SW Jamie Kaiser
5/9/2014 386 16th St SE Marcus Wilson
9/19/2014 4141 Center Pt Rd NE Brandon Gordon
10/15/2014 800 15th St SE Caleb Celichowski

About: Listed is everybody who has been arrested in Cedar Rapids because of a shooting incident in 2014. The list does not include those who were tied to a murder. Data is recent as of December 1.

The police department has responded to the shootings by stepping up the visibility of officers in targeted areas via increased patrols, as well as deploying officers on bikes and foot.

Jerman said the decrease in shots fired shows those tactics are working.

The department has made a number of arrests, and individuals are facing charges at the state and federal levels.

“You have officers making an impact,” said Buelow. “This is something that can happen anywhere.”

The police department data shows that the largest cluster of shootings have occurred in and near the Wellington Heights neighborhood.

Given the population density of the neighborhood, Wellington Heights neighborhood Association President Justin Wasson said that shouldn't come as a surprise.

 

“Population-wise, we're more dense than the rest of the city,” Wasson said, noting that a map of Iowa would show similar crime clusters in metropolitan areas. “How many homicides are going to happen in a cornfield?”

Wasson said he believes that most of those responsible for the shootings are not from Wellington Heights, noting it doesn't make sense to shoot up your own neighborhood.

“This is something that can happen anywhere, at any time,” he said. “If you're a good neighbor, if you're respectable and courteous, you'll be safe in the neighborhood.”

Still, Wasson said residents are encouraged to voice their concerns about suspicious activity to police. To their credit, the police listen to and respond to those concerns, Wasson said.

A sticker advertising the Crime Stoppers program adorns the back of and Iowa City Police Department patrol car Friday, Aug. 16, 2013 in Iowa City. (Brian Ray/The Gazette-KCRG)
Chapter 4:

Crime elsewhere

Cedar Rapids is not alone in facing gun violence this year.

In the spring, the same time shooting incidents were on the rise in Cedar Rapids, the Iowa City Police Department also responded to a spate of shootings.

In one incident, a teenager from Cedar Rapids, Denisha Davis, was hit by a stray bullet and left paralyzed from the waist down.

 

Davis's mother, Denia Davis, said she remembers growing up in Cedar Rapids and knowing that the community was looking out for each other.

She believes that's not the case any more.

She said people don't know how to solve problems any more, and things have progressed from settling issues with fists to setting them with guns.

“The level of violence that's here now, it doesn't make sense,” she said.

Focused deterrence

 

Earlier this fall, Jerman traveled to Kansas City, Mo., to discuss a policing strategy authorities have had success with there.

According to Kansas City Police Department Major Joe McHale, the city has been hit with 100 to 150 homicides a year. But a few years ago, local authorities decided enough was enough.

“We've been doing the same (stuff) for 30, 40, 50 years,” McHale said. “We get 100 to 150 homicides every single year. If we do the same thing, you know what we're going to get next year? One hundred to 150 homicides.”

In mid-2012, the KCPD adopted a focused deterrence model of policing. Under that approach, McHale said police identify the “5 percent” of bad actors in the community who are responsible for a majority of the crime, as well as their social structures.

McHale said authorities engage with those suspects and offer to assist them through social services with whatever issues they're facing.

The offer of help also comes with a warning, however.

“If you don't accept the help and you commit crimes, we're coming after you and your friends with everything we've got,” McHale said.

Jerman said the strategy works by disrupting the social structure of the groups.

While Person A might be the one committing the crime, if Person B is an associate of Person A and has unpaid fines, warrants or unpaid child support, police will use that against the associate, weakening the social structure of the organization.

“Instead of policing an entire city or geographical areas ..., you're policing social structures,” McHale said.

The program has been successful in Kansas City, which is looking at a 27 to 35 percent reduction in its homicide rate this year, McHale said. He expects similar, if not better, results in Cedar Rapids.

 

“I think it will work better there than it does here,” McHale said. “The only difference between your city and my city is we're a little bit bigger.

“You're dealing with the same people, you're dealing with the same problems. The gun violence you guys are seeing is the exact same we're seeing in Kansas City.

“This type of strategy,” he added, “you guys are going to knock it out of the park. I'm a believer.”

Jerman said Cedar Rapids will bring together social services, probation and parole offices, the schools and faith-based organizations to create a similar network here.

“It's a large collaborative effort,” he said. “This is not a problem we can easily arrest our way out of. The more efficient and effective way is to utilize all of these efforts together.”