Task force works to 'nip' gun violence in local region

Sunday, May 4, 2014
LAURA SIMON ~ lsimon@semissourian.com

Cape Girardeau police are teaming up with their counterparts in three other Southeast Missouri communities in an effort to reduce gun violence throughout the region.

"If [offenders] can work together, so can we," Cape Girardeau police chief Wes Blair said in a recent interview.

Blair said he and Sikeston's police chief, Drew Juden, were talking shop on their way to a meeting when they hit upon the idea of sharing resources to address common problems.

"We've learned over the course of time. Criminals aren't bound by city limits; they aren't bound by county lines. They don't care. But they know we are," he said.

Some offenders in Southeast Missouri move from one town to the next in an effort to elude police, Blair said, so officers in Cape Girardeau, Sikeston, Poplar Bluff and Charleston, Missouri, end up dealing with the same people.

"Whenever the heat gets on them, then they move to the next city," he said.

Blair and Juden discussed the possibility of bringing together officers from all four communities and the Missouri State Highway Patrol in an effort to thwart criminal activity throughout the region.

The departments drew up a memorandum of understanding in early April and the Southeast Missouri Street Crimes Task Force was born.

How it works

The task force targets specific areas in each town where gun crimes are prevalent, Blair said.

He spread out a map of the city with dots marking the spots where officers had responded to reports involving guns. The dots were sparse across most of Cape Girardeau, but the area roughly bounded by William Street to the north, West End Boulevard to the west and Highway 74 to the south was virtually covered with blue ink.

The task force identified that area -- known as Zone 4 -- as a "hot spot" for gun violence and chose it as its first target, Blair said.

"There are a lot of really good people that live in a bad area because they're trapped there ... and they have just as much right as we do to live without fear," he said.

During its inaugural outing April 25, the task force made 16 arrests, including several for felony drug violations, and issued 25 citations, said Darin Hickey, public information officer for the Cape Girardeau Police Department.

"Drugs and violence are tied hand-in-hand," Hickey said.

The task force likely will concentrate most of its efforts around weekends, Blair said, but if a department receives intelligence something is going to happen during the week, the task force will adjust its schedule.

"The whole purpose is to run [criminals] completely out of the region and to keep them on their toes and keep them guessing: 'Where are they going to hit this weekend?'" he said.

Blair said the sight of officers from multiple jurisdictions patrolling a single area should send a message to would-be criminals that they aren't safe anywhere in the region.

"They're going to go, 'Well, crap -- we can't do our stuff anywhere,'" he said.

Officers from participating agencies will work with the task force outside their regular shifts, Hickey said.

"We're not going to take away from patrol division," he said. "They're still going to be out there."

Hickey compared the task force to the Major Case Squad, which pulls together officers from several jurisdictions to investigate homicides immediately after they are reported.

"When you can share information, when you have a criminal element that's moving from town to town ... it's very beneficial to each jurisdiction," he said.

Gun crimes

Hickey said in 2013, officers responded to more than 100 calls about shots being fired, and between February 2013 and February 2014, they handled 177 cases involving stolen guns.

Gun crimes, which Hickey defined as armed criminal action and unlawful use of a weapon, increased dramatically this winter.

Between Nov. 1, 2013, and March 31, police responded to 83 gun crimes -- up from 49 for the same period the following year, he said.

A year-to-year comparison of other crimes during the same period shows the number of assaults on law enforcement officers doubled from five to 10, and first-degree assaults rose from eight to 11, Hickey said.

The reason for the rise was not clear.

"That's what you have to take a look at, because we're still trying to find that out," Hickey said. " ... We believe that some of these shots-fired calls are probably the same shooter or involving the same people."

Blair said he hopes by getting ahead of the criminals, the task force can prevent violence before it happens.

"We recognize as violent as this winter has been, going into the summer has the potential to be unprecedented as far as gun violence goes," he said. "We're hoping to kind of nip that before it gets off the ground very good."

In March, a bullet passed through a window and lodged in a wall at a home day-care business at 416 S. Benton St.

No one was hurt, but if gun crimes continue, Blair worries a child will be hit by a stray bullet intended for someone else.

"Eventually, somebody is going to get hit," he said. "The whole day care shooting was a wake-up call, I hope."

At the time, Hickey said officers did not believe the house was the shooter's intended target.

The suspect in that case, 27-year-old Terrance Vance, is from Sikeston.

"We're finding (in) a lot of these shootings, there's connections between our city or Charleston or Poplar Bluff," Blair said.

Reaching out

The task force isn't the only tool police are using to reduce violence in Cape Girardeau. Blair said he has been meeting with pastors and community leaders to encourage people to report crimes.

"I think the overriding thing is [residents are] afraid of retaliation, and until we can convince them that there's strength in numbers ... until we all collectively stand up and say, 'Enough' ... it's going to continue to happen," Blair said.

He mentioned a case in which a man shot someone in the parking lot at KFC on William Street. Although several witnesses saw the shooting, no one -- including the victim -- showed up for court, so the suspect ended up being released for lack of evidence, Blair said.

"We can't make cases without witnesses," he said.



Pertinent address:

Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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