Public Safety

Gunfire incidents in Cedar Rapids in 2018 climb to highest in years

Chief: Most of last year's gun violence was not random

Cedar Rapids emergency responders on the scene of a shooting near the intersection of 16th Street and First Avenue SE Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. (Kat Russell, the Gazette)
Cedar Rapids emergency responders on the scene of a shooting near the intersection of 16th Street and First Avenue SE Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. (Kat Russell, the Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Incidents involving gunfire continued to climb last year in Cedar Rapids, reaching the highest number of confirmed shots-fired reports in at least a decade.

According to data from Cedar Rapids police, there were 117 verified incidents of gunfire in 2018, with a high concentration of the activity happening in the Wellington Heights area.

Police Chief Wayne Jerman said a verified incident refers to one in which officers confirmed a gun was fired by locating shell casings, seeing property damage, discovering a person was hit or interviewing a witness who saw it.

Of those 117 incidents, police said seven involved suicides.

The data shows October was the city’s worst month for gun violence in 2018, with 15 reported incidents. May was the second-most active month, with 14 incidents, and December followed close behind with 13.

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2018 was the highest year of reported shots fired in Cedar Rapids on recent record.

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Jerman said it’s likely that none of the incidents in 2018 that did not involve suicides were just random shootings.

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“It’s a very safe assumption that many, if not all, of these shots fired are the result of individuals targeting one another — that they are not random acts,” he said. “And when arrests are made, there is usually some sort of connection between the suspect and other individuals who are engaged in similar activities.”

Jerman said when a shots-fired incident is reported, officers respond to and attempt to locate evidence of a shooting.

“If we are able to locate evidence that shots were actually fired, we document it and investigative it as thoroughly as we can,” he said. “And when there is an incident where a suspect or a victim or a potential victim is identified, we investigate that and go where the evidence takes us.

“However, most of the time, the only evidence that is present are shell casings,” the chief added. “We will collect those and submit them into evidence. 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.”

The problem is, Jerman said, that many of these incidents are difficult to investigates because police get little cooperation from witnesses or those involved.

“There are times where we’ll get called to a residence or one of the (emergency rooms) and there is a person suffering from a gunshot wound and they won’t talk,” Jerman said. “There was one in early January where a person walked into one of the ERs with a gunshot wound and he wouldn’t tell officers where he was when he was shot, why he was shot at, who shot at him. All he would tell the officers is that he believed he was hit while people celebrated the New Year — like people shot into the air and he got grazed by a bullet.”

Additionally, the chief said, it is difficult to pinpoint where the guns involved are coming from.

“Many of our shootings are committed by individuals who illegally possess and use guns,” he said. “But I don’t think we can say we have a good idea of exactly where these guns are coming from.

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“We know there are a large number of guns that are stolen from vehicles,” the chief added. “A number of guns have also been stolen in burglaries. There were also burglaries involving two gun stores last year … and I’m sure some of those firearms, if they weren’t recovered, could end up in the hands of the wrong people.”

That’s why the chief said the department’s Police Community Action Team — or PCAT — has proved so valuable.

With their proactive approach, their involvement in neighborhoods most affected by gun violence and their ability to gather intelligence, PCAT officers are making a difference regardless of what the numbers indicate, Jerman said.

In 2018, PCAT took 33 illegal guns off the streets. The year before, its officers seized 18 firearms and in 2016 they seized 12. Additionally, over the past three years, PCAT officers have seized sizable amounts of drugs and cash, as well as served close to 900 arrest warrants.

“My hope is that with PCAT’s continued efforts — with their continued assertive presence in various neighborhood where gun violence is prevalent — that we could see a reduction in the prevalence of shots fired or shootings or other violent situations,” he said. “Our goal every year is to reduce the shots fired from the previous year.”

Although the number of shots-fired incidents increased last year, the chief said he is certain the number would have been higher without PCAT on the streets.

As an example, he recounted an incident where a PCAT officer intervened before a potential shooting could occur.

Jerman said the officer was watching gang members walking toward a group of rivals.

“These individuals were trying to covertly move toward that group and the PCAT officer intercepted the individuals and one took off running,” Jerman said. “The PCAT officer was able to apprehend him, and he was in possession of a firearm. It’s just speculation that the PCAT officer had prevented a shooting, but why was the individual behaving the way he was — like he was trying to sneak up on the group of rival gang members? I think it’s safe to assume this individual wasn’t going over there to exchange pleasantries.”

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The department plans to add about 10 officers, including two more to the PCAT unit. Jerman said he expects that will further stem gunfire.

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

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