Violent crime in Cedar Rapids drops over five years

Concerns remain after city sees six homicides within six months

Cedar Rapids saw 2017 end with another incident of gun violence. Police respond Dec. 30, 2017, to a shooting at 1631 Bever Ave. in which a woman suffered a gunshot wound. The number of shots fired incidents in the city was steady when compared with 2016, but down from the city’s worst year in a decade of 2015. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Cedar Rapids saw 2017 end with another incident of gun violence. Police respond Dec. 30, 2017, to a shooting at 1631 Bever Ave. in which a woman suffered a gunshot wound. The number of shots fired incidents in the city was steady when compared with 2016, but down from the city’s worst year in a decade of 2015. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — While instances of gunshots fired remained steady from 2016 to 2017 and Cedar Rapids saw a small increase in the number of homicides, city officials are touting a nearly 11 percent decrease in violent crime in the city over five years.

According to data submitted annually to the FBI, Cedar Rapids had 392 instance of violent crime — defined by the FBI as murder and non-negligent manslaughter, sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault — in 2013. Tentative data for 2017 shows 350 acts of violent crime, a decrease of 10.7 percent.

Though the crime rate has fluctuated over the years, the difference is even more stark compared with 2007, when the city had 500 instances of violent crime. Furthermore, the city’s overall crime rate per 100,00 residents — 266.81 — was its lowest rate in 11 years.

John McGlothlen / The Gazette

“I think that shows significant progress is being made by the community, the police department and all of the social service agencies and groups that are trying to make our community safer,” said Mayor Brad Hart. “We’ll continue to support the police and make sure they’re getting the best training and have the equipment they need to continue working on and solving crime.”

City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said the decrease in violent crime is “the direct reflection of our community’s personality, in which any challenge can be met when we work together for a common goal.”

Still, challenges remain and 2017 reflected that. While most of the year saw a continuation of a decrease in gun violence — most months saw shots fired incidents in the single digits and there were no homicides in the first six months of the year — the second half of the year and, particularly, the fourth quarter of 2017 told a different story.

Two homicides occurred in July along with 10 known shots fired incidents. Another homicide occurred in September.

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November was the worst month of the year for the city in terms of both shots fired and homicides. There were 13 shots fired incidents — more than any previous month dating to February 2016 — and three homicides. The city ended the year with a total of 89 shots fired incidents and six homicides.

“The way the fourth quarter of the year ended was certainly concerning for me and concerning for the police department,” said police Chief Wayne Jerman. “In contrast with the way the first half of the year started, it was concerning it ended the way it did. We’re certainly aware of it. We’re making adjustments in certain areas. ... One homicide is one homicide too many.”

An arrest has been made in the Nov. 20 shooting death of Heidi Stephens. And late last year, Quarzone Martin was found guilty of second-degree murder in the July 2 shooting death of Andrew Meeks Jr. The killings of Charles Flint, Kenneth Everett, Tarrence Newman and Leland Harris, however, remain open cases.

Without arrests in four of the homicides and many of the shots fired incidents, it’s difficult for police to tell what’s driving the violence. But many of the acts are not random, Jerman said.

“Research indicates that persons who are engaged in risky behavior are more likely to encounter incidents of violence,” Jerman said, emphasizing the only people he blames for violent acts are the perpetrators. “And risky behavior is defined as persons who buy, sell or use illegal drugs and associate with known criminals and persons who possess firearms who are prohibited from carrying them.”

Jerman said many of the robberies that occurred in the 2017 were also the result of people engaging in risky or illegal behavior. There were 120 robberies last year, an increase of 16.5 percent over 2016.

In 2017, “if we could have had robberies remain steady or go down, we would have had a more discernible decrease in the crime rate,” said public safety spokesman Greg Buelow.

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Buelow said investigators reported that some of the robbery victims were buying or selling drugs. Others were people who were arranging illegal sex acts online or through phone apps.

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Jerman said a number of people were robbed while selling electronics. For those, he advised completing the transactions in public places with a lot of witnesses.

With the challenges of 2017 also came successes.

Last year, the city saw the second lowest number of burglaries — 941 — in more than a decade, according to statistics.

In recent years, Jerman has taken to issuing reminders to citizens about locking their homes and vehicles to make them less attractive targets for burglars. He said the decrease in burglaries would indicate that message is being received.

“We still have work to be done,” Jerman said. “We still need to drive it down lower.”

Twenty six guns were stolen from vehicles last year, Jerman said. However, Buelow said patrol officers seized 102 illegally possessed guns and Police Community Action Team officers seized another 18.

Jerman was also pleased that none of the 2017 homicides involved a minor as either an offender or victim.

“Our PCAT has been very active and successful in identifying youthful offenders and messaging these individuals and offenders about how they can obtain services and other options other than continuing to engage in illegal activity,” he said.

Through a partnership with juvenile probation, some minors have been referred to behavioral facilities, Jerman said. Several offenders have earned high school diplomas, he added.

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“It’s not only about arresting and incarcerating individuals. It’s about proving them resources and opportunities to be successful,” Jerman said.

In remains to be seen what 2018 will hold for violent crime in the city. The police department already is investigating one new homicide this year, the death of AnnaElise Edgeton, 18, who was found Jan. 13 in her apartment.

Jerman said he hopes that one incident doesn’t color the community’s perception about violence in Cedar Rapids.

“We know there are some people that may perceive that there’s an increase,” he said. “I need to continue to promote that violent crime is not rising. It’s not out of control. In fact, the men and women of this agency continue to do a great job, to continue to address it. We’re going to continue to do that.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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