CEDAR RAPIDS — Just days into the new year, the Cedar Rapids Police Community Action Team seized its first illegal gun of 2019. And that seizure is just one of many the team has made in the three years its been combating gun violence in the city.
“I think they’ve been tremendously successful,” Police Chief Wayne Jerman said. “The relationships that they have formed with the various communities and neighborhoods ... and the partnerships they’ve formed with other agencies and branches of the criminal justice system have proved to be very valuable. Just look at the numbers.”
According to data provided by the police department, the PCAT unit seized 33 illegal guns in 2018. That’s a significant jump from the 18 seized in 2017 and the 12 confiscated in 2016, the team’s first year on the street.
A majority of the guns seized were stolen, said PCAT Supervisor Sgt. Doug Doyle, and many were found in the hands of juveniles or young adults.
PCAT officers also seized 200 grams of methamphetamine, 9.6 grams of heroin, 24 grams of cocaine, more than 1,740 grams of marijuana, approximately 430 pills and nearly $6,500 in cash.
“This is what I always envisioned police work to be,” PCAT officer Jared Jupin said Saturday night while patrolling the Wellington Heights neighborhood. “It’s what police work should be.”
Jupin joined the Police Community Action Team nearly two years ago, after working for five years as a patrol officer, four of which were spent in New York before moving to Cedar Rapids.
“I liked working patrol because every day was different,” he said. “But I never really got to dig into more serious crimes. A lot of my time was spent going from call to call. And that’s what I like about PCAT — our unit does not respond to calls for service, which frees us up to do more proactive work.”
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.
“A lot of our time is spent building relationships with members of the community and gathering intelligence,” Doyle said. “And we do that in many different ways, whether it’s through stopping to chat with people while walking a foot patrol or through some of my officers taking time out of their day to help someone or shoot some hoops with some kids, all of that helps us build relationships and gain the trust of the community.”
And with the community’s trust often comes information.
“When an incident occurs, whether it’s a shots fired call or something else, because we have built those relationships, the community knows our faces and is perhaps a little bit more comfortable with us,” Doyle said. “So, we can go into that area and make contacts, talk to people and gather additional information, and we can use that information to try to prevent further activities.”
“We spend a lot of our time doing self-initiated work based on the intelligence we’re getting,” Jupin said. “We are constantly getting information from people and from our patrol officers and investigators, and analyzing it and putting a plan into action.”
And, just four days into January, the fruits of those relationship-building efforts paid off as PCAT seized its first illegal gun of the year.
According to the criminal complaint, officers made a traffic stop Friday night near 15th Street SE and Mount Vernon Road SE and arrested 19-year-old Michael J. Davis, of Cedar Rapids, after marijuana and a handgun were allegedly found in his possession.
Davis faces charges of carrying a concealed weapon and possession of a controlled substance.
Officer Jupin, who initiated the traffic stop, said the arrest was the result of information PCAT received from the community.
“And now there’s one less gun on the street,” he said the next night. “We couldn’t do this work if it weren’t for the people in the community who want to do the right thing. They want the violence to stop just as much as we do.”
“The bottom line is that we couldn’t do this if we didn’t all work as a team,” Doyle said. “From our patrol units handling calls for service so we’re free to do other things, to our investigators passing on information, to the members of the community coming forward with intelligence, we couldn’t do this without all of us working together.”
Though it is difficult to quantify how many incidents the PCAT unit might have prevented over the years, Doyle said he sees plenty of other signs that their efforts are working.
“I really do believe that the time we have spent in the community is working,” Doyle said. “We are constantly receiving information from the community. We’ve even had past targets give us information, and that’s unheard of.
“And we’re not just out there arresting people,” he added. “We’re also trying to identify those people who are at risk and steer them away from that path and in a new direction. We’re trying to educate them about the consequences of their actions — especially when we’re dealing with a juvenile. We want them to know they can change their direction and we can help put them in touch with resources they might need to do that.”
In the coming year, Chief Jerman said the PCAT unit will add two officers. Overall, Jerman said the department expects to hire 10 additional officers, two of which have “been earmarked for the PCAT team.” The chief said some of the revenue earned through the Interstate 380 traffic cameras is expected to support the expansion.
And with more boots on the ground, Jupin said he expects to see the PCAT unit evolve even more.
“We’ve really gone from being an enforcement unit or a preventive unit to an intelligence-gathering unit,” he said. “And I hope that we can put that intelligence to even bigger use.”
Jupin said he hopes the team can one day use the intelligence they collect to identify the sources of the illegal guns and shut down the supply.
“We have all this intelligence that we are gathering, and if we can start tying these guns together, identifying the names that keep popping up and looking at those trends, maybe we can start tying those guns to suppliers.”