Public Safety

Iowa City police respond to 48th shots-fired incident of the year

An Iowa City squad car. (file photo)
An Iowa City squad car. (file photo)

IOWA CITY — Shots rang out in broad daylight in Iowa City on Monday, hitting an occupied vehicle.

Just before 3 p.m., Iowa City police responded to multiple 911 calls reporting gunfire and involving two vehicles near Westwinds Drive and Roberts Road in west Iowa City. Police said they found shell casings from two handguns at the scene and said a third vehicle — uninvolved in the exchange — was hit by gunfire.

The incident marks the 48th time Iowa City police have responded to shots fired this year — incidents in which police have had a victim, evidence of a shooting or a credible witness, according to Sgt. Jerry Blomgren, who has tracked the incidents this year. In 2019, there were only 15 such incidents, and Blomgren said there were fewer than 10 in 2018.

“They are definitely trending upward,” he said.

Blomgren said “a large number” of the incidents involve drug-related robberies or retaliation for a drug-related robbery, most of them involving marijuana.

“This is a drug that has a lot of money associated with it in our community, and the demand is obviously high,” he said. “I would say this is the most common factor surrounding shootings this year.”

Police think the same people are involved in multiple shootings, and investigators “see some groups that appear to be shooting at each other for little reason more than they are part of another group,” Blomgren said.

There also have been a number of accidental gun discharges in which people have shot themselves or someone else, leading Blomgren to think there is an increase in either guns or the people carrying guns.

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“This is obviously a major concern for us,” said Iowa City Police Capt. Denise Brotherton. “We haven’t seen numbers like this. It’s concerning. It’s alarming.”

Brotherton said investigators are tracking when and where the shots-fired incidents occur and are trying to determine which are related. While putting marked squad cars in an area that has seen more incidents of gunfire is a reliable deterrent, Brotherton said that isn’t possible now because “we are understaffed.”

Brotherton said staff levels are down because of retirements, military leave and injuries. Specialty positions such as the downtown liaison and neighborhood response officers have been put back on patrol to maintain minimum staffing levels, Brotherton said.

“We try to do what we can and have our patrol units out there and visible as a preventive measure,” she said. “That’s also competing with calls for service and other issues. It’s a challenge right now with the staffing levels that we currently have.”

Police ask that anyone with information — including security camera footage — on any of the shots-fired incidents to contact the police department at (319) 356-5275 or Iowa City Area Crime Stoppers.

Comments: (319) 339-3155; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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