Public Safety

Gunfire incidents in Cedar Rapids for 2019 drop slightly from peak

2019 also saw first grants awarded under anti-violence initiative

Cedar Rapids Police gather evidence while investigating a shooting in the 800 block of 15th Street SE in Cedar Rapids on
Cedar Rapids Police gather evidence while investigating a shooting in the 800 block of 15th Street SE in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — After a peak year for gun violence in Cedar Rapids, the number of reported shots fired incidents in the city saw a slight decline in 2019.

According to data from Cedar Rapids police, there were 100 verified incidents of gunfire in 2019, down from 117 reported the year before, which represented the most in about a decade.

Yet five of 2019’s shooting incidents resulted in the deaths of six people. One was a suicide.

“Certainly decreases in the number of shots fired incidents is pleasing,” police Chief Wayne Jerman said. “It’s the direction we want to go, but 99 still is way too many … and that continues to concern and disturb me. So, we need to continue to be aggressive in our enforcement activities and continuing to encourage the community to work with us so we can continue to lower the numbers of shots fired.”

Last year also saw tangible steps in a broad approach to addressing youth gun violence in the city, with the first grants being awarded as a result of work done by the Safe, Equitable and Thriving Communities Task Force.

Arrests have been made in two of the homicide cases, including a double homicide — the city’s first in five years.

On Feb. 19, Tenacious Harris, 20, was shot and killed in the 1800 block of A Avenue NE. No arrests have been made and an investigation continues.

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Three months later, on May 18, police received reports of a shooting that occurred in the parking lot of Iowa Smoke Shop, 70 Kirkwood Court SW. Two 18-year-olds — Royal Abram and Matrell Johnson — were killed and two others, Kayla Panos-Blackcloud and Booker McKinney, 19, were injured. A month later, 26-year-old Andre Richardson was charged with two counts of first-degree murder.

Police are still looking into the death of Randy Campbell, 44, whose body was found June 21 in a garage in the 1800 block of Hamilton Street SW. The death first was thought to be a suicide, but the Medical Examiner’s Office later ruled it was a homicide.

The morning before Halloween, police responded to a shooting at the Kum & Go, 3132 First Ave. NE, where they found 27-year-old Reginald L. Ward, of Illinois, had been shot. Ward died Oct. 31 and the case remains unsolved.

Two days later, on Nov. 2, gunfire erupted in the 900 block of 38th Street SE. Officers arrived to find 31-year-old Wayne T. Jones had been shot and killed. Investigators later identified Jermain Walker, 36, as a suspect. He is charged with first-degree murder.

Shots fired data shows October was the city’s worst month in 2019 for gun violence, with 13 reported incidents.

Jerman said investigators believe most of the incidents are connected or perpetrated by a small group of people.

“It’s a very safe assumption that many of these shots fired are the result of individuals targeting one another,” he said. “And when we investigate these cases, we often find some sort of connection between the suspects and other involved individuals.”

Shots fired incidents reported to CRPD in 2019

Out of those 99 shooting investigations, Jerman said nine — or roughly 9 percent — have resulted in arrests.

In many incidents, the only evidence police have is a shell casing.

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“We will collect those and submit them into evidence,” the chief said. ”They can also be submitted to the (Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation) crime lab where they can be entered into the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network.”

Jerman said many of these incidents are difficult to investigate because police get little cooperation from witnesses or those involved.

“A lot of times, there are no the witnesses to these incidents,” he said. “And, if there are witnesses, they often are not cooperating or providing officers with information into either a description of the shooter or a vehicle that was involved.”

That’s one of the reasons the police department formed the Police Community Action Team — also known as PCAT — to combat gun violence in the city.

In 2019, the unit seized 96 illegally-possessed firearms, and the police department as a whole has removed 175 firearms — 140 of which were seized in criminal incidents.

The four-officer and one-sergeant unit primarily is tasked with building relationships in neighborhoods that are most effected by gun violence. And those community relationships, Jerman said, lead to developing information “that not only leads to solving these types of cases but also goes directly toward preventing incidents of gun violence.”

In 2015, after the shooting death of a 15-year-old by a 14-year-old jolted the city, residents and community leaders came together to discuss what could be done to stem a rising tide of youth violence.

That led to the formation of the Safe, Equitable and Thriving Communities Task Force, which produced a stack of recommendations in 2017 that aimed at improving economic opportunity, educational success, better access to youth programming and other services.

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Since then, the SET Task Force — now a part of the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation — has distributed two rounds of grants to nonprofits in the city focused on engaging youth in activities and education.

Over the past summer, the task force distributed its first round of grants — $40,000 — to eight local organizations. The result: 235 young people engaged with SET-funded programs, 73 youth participated in programming that ranged from three to 10 weeks in length, 70 adults received training on implicit bias or restorative practices and three young people obtained employment.

In the fall, the task force received applications from 21 organizations requesting a total of $454,109 in funding — far more than the $123,727 available. After reviewing the applications, the grant committee recommended funding seven applications, including a trial funding for five applications and full funding for two.

In the coming year, the SET Task Force aims to continue to build the its network — aligning itself with nonprofit, public health and public safety organizations — adopt a research-based community violence reduction model and continue to grow the task force’s funding and the reach of its grants.

Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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