‘One death is one too many’: Cedar Rapids leaders discuss gun violence prevention in the city

Panelists (from left to right) included Scott Peterson, interim executive director of Iowans for Gun Safety; CRPD chief Wayne Jerman; Leah Schneider, a survivor of the 2017 Las Vegas shooting; Christine Lehman-Engledow, who started the Cedar Rapids chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America; Dale Todd, Cedar Rapids City Councilmember. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

Last year, there were 99 shots-fired incidents in Cedar Rapids, but only 9 percent of those cases resulted in an arrest, Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman said during a discussion at the Cedar Rapids Public Library. He emphasized the importance of the community working together with police to address gun violence in the city.

“When someone sees a shooting and we’re called to the scene, it’s very difficult to solve an incident with very little cooperation, if any,” Jerman said Tuesday evening. “We are seeing more cooperation than we have in the past — that’s encouraging — but we need more.”

“It’s very difficult to solve any type of crime when there’s a lack of cooperation and support… One death is one too many. This city — this community — needs to continue to unite to eliminate it, and that means working together with the police.”

There were five panelists at the event, but when the floor opened up for questions, most community members in attendance directed their inquiries to Jerman and Cedar Rapids City Councilmember Dale Todd. People wanted to know what the city is doing about gun violence and the reason for increased gun incidents.

Shots fired, which do not include suicide or an accidental discharge of a firearm, had been increasing in the city from 2016 to 2018 before decreasing in 2019.

The City of Cedar Rapids has tried different initiatives over the past several years to combat violence, especially gun violence.

The Police Community Action Team (PCAT) has been involved in those efforts since it was created by the Cedar Rapids Police Department in 2016. The team is deployed into neighborhoods to address various problems, such as gun violence, crime and other quality-of-life issues. Also in 2016, the city started the Safe, Equitable and Thriving Communities Task Force.

“[The violence is] rooted deeper in the social fabric of what’s going on on the streets with these kids, with these adults and with these weapons,” Todd said. “In order to try to make a difference when it comes to violence, we realize it’s more a holistic strategy. It’s giving people hope. It’s giving people a job and work and meaning.”

Jerman referenced a March 2019 report from the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit organization based in Washington D.C. that focuses on research and policies related policing issues. The report includes nine recommendations to reduce gun violence.

One of the recommendations Jerman mentioned specifically was imposing certainty of punishment for illegal possession of a firearm.

“That’s what I see, and law enforcement sees, as the number-one issue,” Jerman said.

“Gun violence that is committed [in Cedar Rapids] is being committed by those who illegally possess and use firearms,” he added. CRPD officers and PCAT members seized 96 illegally possessed firearms in 2019.

Todd and Jerman both brought up the influence social media has had on the perception of having a gun as being tied to masculinity or “being cool.”

“We’ve got to educate our youth and educate those who feel the need, whether that’s for their protection or fulfill their sense of being cool, that it’s not necessary,” Jerman said. “I think we need to help educate and mentor those individuals who feel a need to want to do that.”

“It’s a matter of having the resources, the time and the mentors and the role models in their lives that can make a difference,” Todd added. “That’s what we’re striving for.”

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