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Davenport mayor announces task force to combat violent crime

The City of Davenport has been working to fight juvenile crime and violent crime for years.

DAVENPORT, Iowa — City leaders plan to discuss juvenile crime in the community with the launching of a new task force specifically to focus on violent crime.

A press conference, hosted by Mayor Mike Matson, was set for 4:45 p.m. on Tuesday, June 1. 

During the conference, the city revealed that gun violence reached a new high in Davenport in 2020. Police Chief Paul Sikorski saying there were 279 shots fired incidents, as well as 47 non-fatal shootings. And he says 2021 is keeping pace with the previous year. 

"Not only has the frequency of shootings increased in our community, so has the magnitude of these events," said Sikorski. "Four shooting scenes involved multiple shooting victims last year. And at one homicide scene, we determined that there were 98 rounds fired by at least nine different weapons." 

He says the violence is not random. Many of the shootings are the result of gang retaliation. 

"The unfortunate reality is that these gangs are comprised predominately of minority youth, and both the perpetrators and victims of the majority of gun crimes in davenport have been young African American males," said Sikorski. "As a community we should all collectively mourn the fact that this violence has become normalized and even accepted in some areas of our community." 

Now, the city hopes their new task force will help tackle the rising gun violence through a holistic approach. The group is comprised of law enforcement, city council members, and outside organizations including LULAC, the NAACP, Davenport Schools, Genesis, Vera French Community Mental, and even local youth. 

"Law enforcement has a responsibility of dealing with crime after it has occurred. Our community should be very responsible in helping to prevent crime before it occurs," said Matson. 

The new task force will begin meeting in the next few weeks and they're looking at finding the root causes of the violence, as well as hearing directly from community members what they need to help stop it. 

"This isn’t a get together talk and have a nice day community discussion. This is what are we missing, what do we need to work on, what solutions do we find and what action can we do," said Matson. 

And when it comes to directly involving the youth, to help curb juvenile violence, Matson says they're already working on it. 

"We’re already developing names. We’re already developing kids in our schools that we need to talk to. That people have recommended that we talk to and be part of this, we’re already doing that," he said.

The mayor did note that if you know of an organization that would be a good fit for the task force, to reach out to his cell phone personally, at (563) 505-6976.

For community activist and founder of the nonprofit Lincoln Center in Davenport, Tracy Singleton, the announcement was needed, but she's waiting to see if it goes far enough. 

"I’m glad that they hit the nail on the head by saying where the problem is. I’m glad that they are talking, but I’ll be happy when they start doing," she said. 

Singleton and her center work directly with the youth impacted by the gun violence in Davenport and she says while it's a concentrated group of kids causing the problem, it hurts the entire community - especially the city's youth of Color. 

"And that is where the organizations working directly with these groups need support, need resources, need funding," she said. "It’s not just because these kids are out here doing bad things. These kids are living in poverty. Which leads to literacy issues and systemic issues."

Singleton says unless the task force can help allocate funding to the groups already working on the ground, it might only be a band aid over a problem that has deeply entrenched roots. 

"I’m worried about what’s been happening escalating to another level. I really am. I believe this summer if things don’t start to change that it’s gonna be a very long summer and a very violent summer," she said. "That’s when this funding needs to happen so that there can be safe spaces." 

In early 2020, Matson said he wanted to "re-energize" an initiative to fight juvenile crime.  During an interview with News 8's Jim Mertens, Matson said he hoped to see the creation of a Juvenile Assessment Center become a reality, as part of a citywide effort to reduce youth violence and stop kids from re-committing crimes. 

The Assessment Center was proposed in 2019 as a "one stop shop" to offer punishment and counseling for juveniles accused of crimes in Davenport.

The City of Davenport has been working at combatting other types of juvenile crime as well.  An initiative to keep kids from stealing cars was started in 2019. The "Auto Theft Accountability Program" forced first-time youth offenders to meet the victim face to face in mediation. 

RELATED: Car thefts by kids on the rise, police say

In 2018, the city's mayor at the time, Frank Klipsch, started holding sessions of a "Youth Community Action Summit."  It was a discussion aimed at outlining concerns and finding the underlying cause of an increase in juvenile crime. 

-Check back for updates on the June 1st press conference-