‘We have to think outside the box’: Davenport police using new strategy to stop cycles of gun crime

Updated: Sep. 1, 2022 at 10:30 PM CDT
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DAVENPORT, Iowa (KWQC) - Davenport police are shifting how the department responds to gun crime, using a community-based strategy called Group Violence Intervention.

The department hopes the approach will stop cycles of violence from frequent offenders and lower gun crime rates in the city.

“It’s an evidence-based strategy that’s meant to reduce gun violence by focusing on those that are at highest risk for violent victimization or offending and bringing to them a credible message that we want to see them safe alive and out of prison, that violence is not going to be tolerated in our community,” Sarah Ott, Davenport’s chief strategy officer, said.

“We are here to help them, but if the violence continues, there will be consequences. Ultimately, GVI is law enforcement and our communities standing and acting together to lower gun crime in our community.”

How did the city get here?

GVI is based on data from Boston, Davenport Police Chief Jeff Bladel said.

“Boston ceasefire initiated this process or this program in the early 90s and it’s been continued. It’s been replicated through a number of different cities,” he said.

Why use a new approach to gun violence? Data collected by TV6 Investigated showed Davenport hit a record number of 282 confirmed gunfire incidents in 2020.

“Our officers have the ability to investigate,” Bladel said. “We have the ability to arrest. We have the ability to make solid cases and prosecute but it wasn’t slowing down or it isn’t slowing down - the gun violence. So, you get to this point where you’re chasing the cycle of violence.”

In 2021, data the city saw 207 confirmed gunfire incidents. As of Aug. 1, Davenport has had 110 confirmed gunfire incidents. Data collected from Davenport police shows that 0.18% of the population is associated with about 50 to 60% of recent homicides and nonfatal shootings.

Davenport police say data shows those who act violently in Davenport are, on average, 23 years old, 92% are male, and that gun crime disproportionately impacts black residents.

“So, we know if we can strategically reach out to that less than two-tenths of a percent of individuals, we can potentially lower gun crime in our community by 60%,” Ott said.

‘Custom notifications’

Group Violence Intervention starts by identifying the high-risk perpetrators. According to police, 0.18% of Davenport’s most frequent and violent offenders have been identified by police from homicide and shooting data from the last few years.

“After they are identified as high-risk, it’s a community effort,” Bladel said. “It’s your law enforcement, it’s your service providers, and it’s your community that goes out there and has a direct conversation with our highest-risk individuals.”

Those conversations are what police and the city are calling “custom notifications”.

“It basically provides them a message of ‘we’re here to help,’” Bladel said. “We’re here to help you and figure out how we can get you from this life. If you continue the path that you’re continuing, you’re going to be shot dead or in prison. There are no other pathways.”

“Oftentimes these are occurring in their neighborhoods at their houses. We have gone and knocked on their door at 8 a.m. in the morning to have these conversations,” Ott added.

Custom notifications are done with trained community members like Dwayne Hodges, a Davenport resident who said he’s concerned and tired of gun violence in the city.

“Me, as a community member and concerned citizen, I am someone that probably knows your mother or knows your father or knows somebody that knows you, and I’m going out just as a community member letting them know I’m concerned. I want to keep them safe, I want to keep the alive. I want to keep them out of prison,” said Hodges.

For Dwayne, the GVI strategy is personal.

“I have a story. I was in trouble as a youth. I was in trouble as an adult but I changed my life and I talk to them about that. I was a victim of violence, changed my life, and didn’t seek revenge. That’s a lot of what we do with this. We want them to not go out and seek revenge for something that was out of their control,” said Hodges, “We talked recently to a young person that has been shot and he was actively dealing with his wounds from being shot. It was very enlightening talking to him because he just had a lot to say about the fact that he was just there. He’s not even a person that does anything like that. He was in the car and got hit.”

Community members like Dwayne stand together with law enforcement to show they care about residents’ safety and to diffuse the situation if the person becomes hostile during a custom notification.

“Our police department can say until they’re blue in the face, ‘put the guns down’, but oftentimes it’s not until somebody close to this individual says the same thing that that message really resonates,” Ott said.

“We are coming in there saying, ‘look we are concerned about what’s going on with you, we want to help you, we want to be able to get you the help you need to change your life,’” Hodges said.

‘We are here to support you’

After the individual is identified and notified, they are given a genuine offer of help from local social services. The services offer them resources to stabilize their life. DeAmbuir Carter coordinates those services.

“In this aspect, I am helping the community and I’m also helping someone save themself if that’s what they choose to do,” Carter said.

One of the social services involved with GVI is Family Resources in Davenport.

“Whenever the client comes in with a need, we will make sure that if we don’t provide that service, that we provide an appropriate referral to an organization that does provide that service,” Tee LeShoure, homicide and violent crime supervisor with Family Resources, said. “We want you to know and we want the community to know that we are here to support you. We are being genuine in our acts and initiatives.”

So far, those involved with GVI say they have seen positive results.

“Not one person has come up [been arrested] with law enforcement that we have custom notified,” Carter said.

GVI does not change the consequences if the individual continues to cause violence.

“If you make that terrible decision to put that gun in your hand and shoot someone you’re being visited and we’re looking for you are coming after you we’re going to arrest you and we’re going to prosecute you,” Mayor Mike Matson said. “I hope I don’t have to say that very often because this approach with the other approaches and the other techniques that are being used will help reduce that effort.”

Police hope GVI will stop cycles of rapid gunfire in Davenport and create a safer city with law enforcement, social services, and the community standing and acting together.

“This gives us an opportunity as law enforcement officers to help infuse prevention methods to help maybe potentially stop the shootings before they occur,” Bladel said.

“All residents in Davenport deserve to feel safe in their homes, they deserve to feel safe in their communities,” Ott said. “And that’s what GVI hopes to bring.”

If you’re interested in becoming a trained GVI community member, email gvi@davenportiowa.com.