Public Safety

Recent weekend gunfire in Cedar Rapids 'not random acts'

Five incidents in 55 hours, and four are related, police say

Officer Jared Jupin of the Police Community Action Team holds a gun that he seized during a traffic stop in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. This was the PCAT team’s first gun seizure of the year. The PCAT team was started three years ago to engage with citizens in certain neighborhoods in a more in depth and long-term way to address crime, especially gun violence. In its three years, the group has doubled the number of guns it has confiscated. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Officer Jared Jupin of the Police Community Action Team holds a gun that he seized during a traffic stop in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. This was the PCAT team’s first gun seizure of the year. The PCAT team was started three years ago to engage with citizens in certain neighborhoods in a more in depth and long-term way to address crime, especially gun violence. In its three years, the group has doubled the number of guns it has confiscated. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — The first truly warm weekend in Cedar Rapids this year was marred by five incidents of gunfire in a 55-hour span, according to data from the Cedar Rapids Police Department.

But despite what appears to be a ramping up in violence, the total number of incidents so far this year is fewer than the same period last year.

Between Jan. 1 and April 8, a total of 18 shots-fired incidents have been reported, according to police department records. Of those, one was a suicide and another was an incident reported in January but actually occurred in December.

In 2018, police data shows between Jan. 1 and April 8 there were 25 shots fired incidents in the city, and there were 16 incidents during the same period the year before.

While there may not appear to be an increase in violence, District 3 City Council member Dale Todd said this recent string of violence seems different.

“We have seen gun violence before, but this is a bit different,” Todd said. “This current activity has been simmering and ongoing for quite some time. It’s frustrating because no matter how many officers you have, if people want to shoot at each other, it’s tough to prevent that.”

‘Hybrid gangs’

Cedar Rapids Public Safety spokesperson Greg Buelow said four of the weekend’s incidents — those in or near the Wellington Heights neighborhood — appeared to be related, while an incident at Cedar Valley Townhomes on J Street SW seemed to be random.

“In many cases, there are individuals that are engaging one another in ongoing disputes,” he said. “These groups are hybrid gangs. They don’t contain the traditional structure of historic criminal street gangs. These are generally loosely affiliated and often change their allegiance to one another. They are often in disputes about relationship issues or other perceived grievances. Unfortunately, some have access to firearms and are using them to attempt to settle their disputes.”

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Many of the people involved, Buelow said, are well-known to police and had “prior dealings” with law enforcement.

Buelow said police continue to investigate the weekend’s incidents. But these investigations often come with challenges.

“In many cases, the individuals that have been shot or shot at have not been cooperative,” Buelow said. “To the contrary, they have provided misleading information. This makes it fairly clear that these are not random acts, and those involved are known to one another.”

Weekend of gunshots

Last weekend’s violence started at 9:40 a.m. on April 5 when a 25-year-old man was shot near Bever Avenue SE and 20th Street SE.

Police responding to the scene found no evidence of a shooting, but the man showed up soon after at a hospital with a gunshot wound to the back.

Roughly nine hours later, shots rang out in the 1800 block of Fourth Avenue SE. Police said shots were fired at “a carload of people.”

Sean Thurman, 18, of Cedar Rapids, was arrested for intimidation with a dangerous weapon, going armed with intent, reckless use of a firearm, interference with official acts with a firearm, and carrying weapons. A 17-year-old was also arrested for interference with official acts.

According to a criminal complaint, Thurman told police he shot at rival gang members who were in a moving vehicle.

Just four hours later, about 10:45 p.m. on April 5, a third shots-fired incident was reported in the 3000 block of J Street SW at Cedar Valley Townhomes. Witnesses told police someone fired a gun into the air. No injuries or property damage was reported, and no arrests were made.

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The next day, about 7:20 p.m. Saturday, police responded to the fourth shooting incident of the weekend.

Officers were called to the 500 block of 16th Street SE, at Fifth Avenue SE, where two houses were struck by gunfire. No injuries were reported and no arrests have been made. Five shots were fired, according to police.

The following day, about 4:15 p.m. Sunday in the 1500 block of Bever Avenue SE, a parked vehicle was struck by gunfire. Again, no arrests have been made.

Concerned residents

Todd, who has lived in the Wellington Heights area for more than 25 years, said residents are concerned and frustrated about the violence. The neighborhood will begin to see an increased presence of law enforcement, he said.

“The city has zero tolerance for gun violence,” Todd said. “As a city we have ramped up enforcement and are already implementing the things that we typically do in the summer. Neighborhood residents will see more police in the area and … as a City Council, we have put more resources into place and are utilizing all available staff to get this resolved.”

At the same time, Todd said the city hopes to roll out “a host of summer programming activities for teenagers and younger children through the SET Task Force to provide options to this type of violence.” The Safe, Equitable and Thriving Communities Task Force was established in 2016 to address the root causes of gun violence and poverty in Cedar Rapids.

The goal, Todd said, is not only to end the violence but also to insure no innocent people are harmed.

Addressing violence

Buelow was unable to discuss specific tactics police are using to quell the violence, but said the “Police Community Action Team, or PCAT, and other divisions within the department are dedicating appropriate resources to holding those responsible accountable.”

The PCAT unit was first deployed on Jan. 9, 2016, to combat what was seen as increasing gun violence in the city. The unit — comprised of four officers and one sergeant — was created to target problem offenders and areas in the city and prevent violent crime.

In the past three years, the unit has seized 63 illegal guns — 33 in 2018, 18 in 2017, and 12 in 2016. In that same time, PCAT officers have seized sizable amounts of drugs and cash, and served nearly 900 arrest warrants.

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Since the start of 2019, 23 illegally possessed firearms have been seized by PCAT and patrol officers, Buelow said.

In addition to PCAT’s efforts, Buelow said the department’s school resource officers are working with youths in area high schools to identify and resolve issues before they lead to violent activity. He said the police department also is working with adult and juvenile probation officers, the county attorney and others to address and hold responsible people engaged in criminal behavior.

“The police department is committed to addressing these violent incidents,” Police Chief Wayne Jerman said. “We are continuing to commit the necessary resources and utilizing partnerships to hold accountable those engaging in this dangerous behavior. We are appreciative of the support of citizens that continue to cooperate and work with police to make our community safer.”

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

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