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Transcending borders: Police, prosecutors talk trends in gun violence in the Quad-Cities

Published: Sep. 23, 2020 at 10:20 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 23, 2020 at 10:50 PM CDT
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(KWQC) - Davenport had more than three times the number of confirmed gunfire in the first nine months of the year compared to other cities in the metro Quad-Cities, according to data obtained by TV6 Investigates.

“We have seen an increase, a significant increase, in shots fired incidents and gun-related incidents in Davenport this year,” Police Chief Paul Sikorski said.

TV6 Investigates recently sat down with police and prosecutors in Davenport, Rock Island, and Moline, to talk about trends in gun crimes that seem to transcend the borders of city and state limits.

“I think that what affects one city in the Quad Cities affects all of us, partly because the nature of the Quad Cities,” Moline Police Chief Darren Gault said.

“We’re all in this together, in some sense by geography.”

Rock Island Police Chief Jeff VenHuizen said, “You can’t be apathetic to gun crime in your community.”

“You can’t ignore it, hope it’s going to go away. If you don’t take a stand, it’s just going to get worse, and we’ve seen that.”

By the numbers

Earlier this summer, TV6 Investigates filed open records requests with police departments in the metro Quad-Cities for the number of confirmed gunfire incidents and guns seized to-date.

As of Sept. 23, Davenport had 207 confirmed gunfire incidents. They reported 195 for all of 2019 and 195 for all of 2018.

Sikorski on Aug. 27 said confirmed gunfire incidents are up about 38% from last year. The city also has seen 30 non-fatal shootings and seven homicides, five of which are gun-related, as of Aug. 27, he said.

Rock Island reported 28 confirmed gunfire incidents as of Sept. 15. There were 60 incidents total in 2019, and 58 incidents total in 2018.

East Moline reported 24 confirmed gunfire incidents as of Sept. 17, compared to 16 total in 2019 and 19 total in 2018.

Moline reported nine confirmed gunfire incidents as of Sept. 17, compared to 12 total in 2019 and 16 total in 2018.

Bettendorf reported four confirmed gunfire incidents as of Sept. 12, compared to one total in 2019 and three total in 2018.

Seizing guns

Since Jan. 1, the five police agencies seized a total of at least 355 guns.

Davenport police have seized 212 firearms as of Aug. 31. The majority of the guns, 185, are related to “crime guns or guns related to a criminal offense,” Maj. Jeff Bladel, Davenport assistant police chief, said.

Moline has seized 97 firearms since the beginning of the year.

“To give you a bit of a baseline, we seized as an entire department, 2019, 17 firearms,” Gault said. “That’s a 450% increase. And I think we seized about 26 in 2018. We’re trying to be aggressive in trying to target gun violence in our community and particularly trying to get those guns off the street before there is violence.”

He added, “We do find a lot of them originating from our community that are involved in other cities, either a burglary or a theft or a car burglary, reported from another city.”

Gault and VenHuizen said another way guns are getting into the wrong hands are through straw purchases.

“I think that there are a number of firearms that are introduced into this area through straw purchases, which are individuals who can legally purchase a firearm are doing so, and then they’re getting those firearms into the hands of persons that are prohibited.”

Gault said his department has started to get into that area of investigation to try and stem the tide of firearms from being diverted from “lawful commerce.”

“This is a pretty new area for local police departments to investigating, and we’re hoping to continue to look more into that and get additional training,” he said.

Trends

Bladel said a lot of the gunfire calls in the city that gets the majority of reporting are “either a feud or people shooting at each other.”

“When you look at community gun violence, we have to kind of look at also other factors, suicide-related with guns, we have domestic assaults related with guns,” he said. “So with our shots fired and increases, it’s a variety of different kinds of calls. You can’t pinpoint on one specific thing.”

VenHuizen said while the actual number of confirmed gunfire this year is consistent with the numbers reported last year, an alarming trend the department is shootings with multiple victims.

Two such incidents happened early on Aug. 29 in the District in downtown Rock Island.

Officers responded to 18th Street and Second Avenue in the District for a report of a fight. The first officer to arrive reported hearing gunfire.

Officers located four people with injuries. One of them, 43-year-old Jesse Brand Jr. of Rock Island, was pronounced dead.

A short time later, officers responded to another report of gunfire at 19th Street and Second Avenue and found two more people injured.

“That’s very concerning,” VenHuizen said. “First of all, when an incident like this occurs in a public venue, you have many innocent victims that were injured, and you know the proximity to all of these people and the officers that were down there with no regard for anyone’s safety. It’s very dangerous.”

He said police are still investigating whether the two incidents are related, saying “it appears on its face right now those were two separate incidents.”

Two days later, police arrested Dewaun Anthony Berry, 42, on first-degree murder and other charges connected with the first shooting.

Shootings with multiple victims is a trend Davenport also is seeing.

On June 30, Davenport police responded to a report of gunfire in the 1400 block of Pershing Avenue and found five men with non-life-threatening gunshot wounds.

On July 5, at least three people were injured in a shooting at Myrtle and West Third streets.

“That’s something we haven’t seen, I would say, in years that we would get those things,” Bladel said. “But, if you look across the river, you look around the area, it does seem to be that we’re seeing a little bit more trending that more victims are being involved in shootings.”

Rock Island County State’s Attorney Dora Villarreal said while these cases may be increasing, she doesn’t believe it’s becoming a norm.

“I do not think it is as bad as it used to be,” she said. “Back in the 90s, we had higher rates of violence and shootings. It is definitely something that we hope to prevent more than…just solve quickly.”

Marc Krickbaum, United States Attorney for the Southern Iowa District, said the main trend he sees in the cases he prosecutes are defendants who are often “active shooters,” meaning those who shoot at others on the street.

“There have been months in Davenport were, virtually everyone that we have indicted of a gun crime that month has been an active shooter in an act of violence,” he said.

As of Sept. 15, Krickbaum said the Davenport office had indicted 37 defendants on gun charges in 2020. That’s compared to around 30 people indicted last year.

“I think last year was our all-time high, so even with COVID and other things that could slow us down, we’re on pace to indict more people than last year,” he said.

The trends in gun violence stretch beyond the total number of incidents and guns taken off the street. Many of the incidents, several police chiefs said, are targeted attacks.

And, so-called “hybrid gangs” are responsible for some of the targeted violence in the area, according to police.

“We’re seeing a lot of non-traditional gangs that are less organized,” Sikorski said. “I would call them neighborhood, they may not live in the same neighborhood, but they are, you know, a clique of individuals that now call themselves this or that.”

VenHuizen added, “Now what you see is more decentralized structure and what we call hybrid gangs. These are much smaller individual factions, whether it’s 10 guys in a particular area or seven people from another block that have formed these hybrid gangs.”

Krickbaum said the prevalence of these self-organized gangs is noticeable.

“I think you’ve really seen a change from the late 90s to the early 2000s to today where the gangs are less organized, less hierarchical,” he said. “They don’t necessarily control a standard geographical area. It’s much more neighborhood-based, block to block more informal.”

In August, a federal grand jury handed up an indictment against 11 members of the larger Low Rider Gang, which police and prosecutors say is responsible for years of violence.

The indictment, Krickbaum said, linked the defendants to three different shootings and one stabbing of rival gang members in Davenport between 2015-2019.

“Really what we were seeing, and what the Davenport Police Department was seeing was that the Low Riders were involved in about half of the shootings in Davenport, either because they were the shooters or because they were the intended victims of retaliatory gang violence,” he said. “And so that’s kind of how they ended up on our radar just because of the sheer volume of violence that was tied directly to that gang. And it was an enormous effort between our prosecutors and the police department to put that case together.”

Some say as the crime gets more violent, some of the people responsible seemingly are getting younger. Krickbaum said he had seen some incidents involving teenagers and those in their early 20s engaged in violent crime.

“They haven’t yet built up a criminal record of criminal convictions, but they are the ones driving the actual shootings on the street,” Krickbaum said.

Copyright 2020 KWQC. All rights reserved.

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