Public Safety

Uptick in Cedar Rapids shots fired, but not in cooperation with police

Still, Cedar Rapids police have made a dozen arrests in those case

A Cedar Rapids police car. (Gazette file photo)
A Cedar Rapids police car. (Gazette file photo)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — The number of gunshots fired incidents in Cedar Rapids is up so far this year over the same period last year, raising concerns from some as summer approaches and challenges for police as victims and witnesses won’t cooperate.

In a nine-day span this month, police responded to seven cases, with incidents in all four quadrants of the city: a man with a gunshot wound to the leg Saturday, multiple homes struck by gunfire May 23 and buildings shot into May 18 and 20. Midday May 18, witnesses described a shootout between two groups in the parking lot of Motel 6 off Southgate Court. The incidents remain under investigation.

“The issue that is most common is the lack of cooperation from victims and/or witnesses to provide officers with information so these incidents may be solved,” police Chief Wayne Jerman said in a statement provided by Greg Buelow, public safety spokesman. “This greatly reduces the potential to solve these crimes and hold those committing the offenses accountable.”

Police investigate each case regardless of cooperation, and have made 12 arrests in those investigations so far this year, Jerman and Buelow said.

Police have recorded 12 cases of gunshots fired so far in May, and the 44 recorded so far in 2018 is up 29 percent over the 34 recorded through the end of May 2017.

Last year was the most active year for gunshots in the last decade, according to police data.

Contributing to the uptick seen last year, the department reframed “shots fired” starting in 2017 to track more situations, including accidental shootings, suicides, weapons discharged at animals and incidents based on witness and surveillance evidence, Buelow said.

Seven of the incidents this year fall under those categories — three suicides, one animal shot and three cases based on witness or surveillance evidence, according to police data.

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Buelow said of the incidents this year, eight had shell casings found, 19 had damage to buildings or vehicles and 13 had a victim struck. One of those was the Jan. 13 murder of AnnaElise Edgeton, 18. Police have made multiple arrests in that investigation.

Police usually have a good idea of who the assailants are, and cases often stem from a derogatory social media post or a relationship break up, Jerman said.

“These are not random shootings, rather they are the result of an ongoing dispute or relationship issue,” he said.

The uptick so far this year has some concerned, including City Council member Dale Todd, who lives in the Wellington Heights neighborhood that’s been dealing with “gunfire for quite some time.” Todd noted pockets of flare ups exist throughout the city.

“This is no surprise, but it is worrisome,” Todd said. “It’s been ramping up all spring. I am worried with the state of affairs. It’s time to ask some questions both internally and of our community.”

Todd fears unless people live in one of the pockets where incidents have occurred, they don’t see it as a problem.

Number of shots fired incidents in Cedar Rapids by year (cumulative by month)

John McGlothlen / The Gazette

He also advocated the use of more severe federal charges when a felon is in possession of a gun or bullet.

Council member Susie Weinacht, who chairs the council’s public safety and youth services committee, said it is important to note violent crime is down 11 percent since 2013 and at the lowest point in the decade.

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She said police document “shots fired” to better combat illegal guns in the community.

“This speaks to our vigilance,” Weinacht said, adding strategies have been working.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cedar Rapids is holding a joint news conference with several police departments Wednesday to announce recent gun charges and arrests in Eastern Iowa as part of Project Safe Neighborhoods.

Cedar Rapids police deploy a variety of resources to combat gun violence with a particular focus on youth.

Data is gathered to help track and analyze where incidents might occur. Police partner with social service agencies and schools to address the issues, and with other agencies on the FBI’s Safe Streets Task Force and the U.S. Marshals Service Northern Iowa Fugitive Task Force.

The city’s Police Community Action Team, or PCAT, also has been active since 2016 in at-risk neighborhoods to address crime and quality of life issues through citizen engagement. The team has seized 18 guns that were illegally possessed, Jerman said.

Not everyone is in agreement over whether the right approach is being used to address gun violence in Cedar Rapids.

Public officials have been debating whether to create a position to implement recommendations from an 18-month study on youth gun violence called the Safe, Equitable and Thriving Communities, or SET, task force. Public and private sector individuals from a variety of fields convened amid a rash of shooting deaths involving teenagers in 2015 and 2016.

Council members Todd and Ashley Vanorny have been outspoken in pushing for the city to chip in for the position, while others have resisted, saying the city should focus its resources on other initiatives spelled out by the task force. Some of those recommendations are already underway.

The City Council has not voted on the request, in part because of the divide.

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Last week, the City Council was approached at its meeting by several people calling for a public discussion and vote on the request to fund the new position. Linn County supervisors initially made the request in February after committing $100,000 from county coffers in start up money. plus $50,000 more a year.

“It’s time we look at those recommendations seriously, closely and see what other resource are available in our community,” Linn County Public Health Director Pramod Dwivedi said. “This is everybody’s responsibility.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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