CEDAR RAPIDS — Halfway through the year, the city is seeing the lowest midyear tally of shots fired incidents in six years, data from the Cedar Rapids Police Department shows.
Between Jan. 1 and June 30, there were a total of 40 shots-fired incidents. Included in that number is one suicide and one incident that was reported twice, bringing the actual total of verified shots-fired events down to 38. A majority of those, police believe, were targeted and not random events.
In 2018, the midyear tally showed 53 incidents of gunfire and the count was 47 in 2017.
Sgt. Doug Doyle, commander of the Police Community Action Team — also known as PCAT — said most shooting incidents generally can be traced to a social media post or perceived slight or disrespect. In many cases, that one instance can result in multiple shooting incidents.
Doyle said he’s seen shooting incidents trace to a provocation “as silly as a biscuit.”
“No exaggeration, that biscuit has caused several shootings within our community — one biscuit that was thrown, hit someone and was perceived as a sign of disrespect and resulted in several shots fired,” he said. “It’s ridiculous, and that’s what we’re trying to prevent. How do we, as a department, step up and sit there and predict and prevent future incidents when something as simple as a biscuit being thrown is a sign of disrespect, and that disrespect leads to victims being shot and houses being shot and more shots fired to follow.”
Luckily, a majority of the gunfire episodes in the city results only in shell casings being found or property — not people — being damaged. However, two of this year’s shooting incidents resulted in deaths.
On Feb. 19, police responded about 6:10 p.m. to a report of shots fired in the 1800 block of A Avenue NE. While responding, officers were told a man — later identified as Tenacious Harris, 20 — was shot and inside a vehicle near Franklin Middle School, 300 20th St. NE, less than a mile away. Harris died several days later at a hospital, marking the city’s first homicide of the year. No arrest has been made and the investigation remains open.
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Three months later, on May 18, shots rang out about 1:30 a.m. in southwest Cedar Rapids, and two 18-year-olds, Matrell Johnson and Royal Abram, were killed.
They and two 19-year-olds were sitting in a parked vehicle outside the Iowa Smoke Shop on Kirkwood Court when a suspect walked up and opened fire.
Johnson and Abram were pronounced dead at the scene. The 19-year-olds — Booker McKinney and Kayla Panos-Blackcloud — suffered life-threatening injuries but survived.
The deaths sent shock waves through the community and maybe even sparked some change, Doyle said.
“I’ve never seen something change the community as much as that terrible event did,” he said. “Some groups that used to feud are now friends again — they’ve shut down some of their previous issues. You don’t see people out and about as much — they’re not moving as much — so that incident definitely shook up the community to where the groups and people we would normally have issues with weren’t as active.”
Doyle said he has hope that change could perhaps last.
“A lot of them have specifically told us (the PCAT unit) that many of these kids have talked about putting their guns down and stepping away from that life,” he said. “And you know, it seems like that incident has led to the realization for some that maybe the lifestyle they’re living isn’t worth it.”
But that doesn’t mean Cedar Rapids is out of the woods as “future events could spark different changes and different mindsets,” Doyle said.
A breakdown of 2018’s shots-fired incidents shows September, October and December to be some of the most active months for gunfire.
“And that’s why we’re out there working it,” he said. “We’re out there on foot talking to people, collecting information, paying attention to trends and social media and what’s going on with our active gangs and the issues they’re having. And can sometimes enable us to gauge the feel from the community, and you can kind of get a good feel for how things are going to progress through the rest of the summer and maybe through the rest of the year.”
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Last year, Cedar Rapids saw 117 incidents of gunfire, the highest number of confirmed shots-fired reports in at least a decade. Of those 117, seven involved suicide.
But for Doyle and his fellow PCAT officers, that was surprising.
“It didn’t match how the communities were interacting and how it felt out there on the streets,” he said. “Last year, we also pulled the most guns off the street, but it didn’t feel like one of the most violent years as the shots-fired data indicate.”
So far this year, PCAT has seized 17 illegal firearms. In 2018, the unit took 33 illegal guns off the streets and in 2017 seized 18. In 2016, the unit’s first year, it seized 12 firearms.
Additionally, between Jan. 1 and July 5, the PCAT unit seized $1,621 in cash, 912 grams of marijuana, 68 grams of methamphetamine, 32 grams of heroin, 144 grams of cocaine, 44 pills both prescription and illicit, and served 145 arrest warrants and 51 search warrants.
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