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Akron police decrease crime rate by cracking down on illegal guns

Published: Dec. 14, 2021 at 3:56 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 14, 2021 at 6:22 PM EST
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AKRON, Ohio (WOIO) - In 2020, cities across the country saw a massive spike in violent crime and Akron was hit particularly hard.

19 Investigates dug deeper into the city’s efforts to crack down on crime this year by focusing on tracking illegal weapons.

“I have a big hole in my heart, in my life because I have been his mother for 20 years and I don’t remember how to exist in this world without him,” said Lucrecia Tolbert-Rogers.

Gun violence stole everything from the Akron mother. Tolbert-Rogers’ son, 20-year-old Gage Zirke, was murdered. He crashed his car into a tree after someone shot him multiple times.

“I felt like I was dying,” Tolbert-Rogers said. “I felt like somebody shot me because that’s what they did. They took a piece of me.”

Tolbert-Rogers is just one of countless mothers who knows the pain of losing a child to this kind of violence.

In 2020, Akron police saw a huge surge in murders, a nearly 45% increase from 2019. That’s when Akron Police Deputy Chief Jesse Leeser realized they had to do something different.

“Like most police departments, we have limited resources,” explained Leeser. “But the calls for service or shots fired, gun-related, weapon-related incidents were increasing a lot. So, we took a step back, saw what we, you know, analyze what we did, and where can we improve what we were missing out on.”

In the past seven months, the Akron Police Department has been laser-focused on getting guns out of the hands of criminals.

“It’s such a national problem,” said Leeser. “We’re in the eye of the storm and so we can’t tell until maybe we get out of this, we pass it through, we can look back and say, ‘OK, this is where those weapons were coming from.’”

So far in 2021, police have seized 1,205 guns. At this time last year, they had taken 941 illegal weapons off the streets. In 2019 police seized just 752 guns.

“Those are 1,200 guns that would have been used or could likely have been used in another crime,” explained Leeser. “It’s not that we want one big bust and then we take a step back. It’s that every single day, those the officers are putting themselves in jeopardy going out there making the arrest.”

According to the data, what they’re doing is working.

Murders and shootings have gone down in Akron for the past seven months in a row. Last year, Akron had 843 total shootings and murders. This year, that number is down to 665, but in 2019 they only had 473 total incidents, so they still have a way to go.

Looking at crime across the board, felonious assaults are down 18% from last year, robberies are down 16%, rapes are down 7%, break-ins are down 21% and arsons are down 28%.

“When we identify those individuals that we know to commit gun violence, arresting them, and getting them off the street, it does pay dividends,” Leeser said. “They’re not out there to commit any more crimes. So, when you focus on the right people, you get them arrested for crimes that you can, you’re going to see a vacuum and crime and it’ll it’ll quiet down.”

Leeser said the internet plays a major role in criminals getting their hands on illegal guns.

“Yeah, with the dark web, and even just legal online purchases, straw purchases, somebody buys a gun legally online, and then they’ll sell it to somebody that is not allowed to possess it and there’s no checks and balances there for the private purchase resale of those guns and that’s, that’s a big issue,” Leeser said. “It’s very complicated, and for law enforcement to tackle those kind of things, we don’t have access to those types of sales or when they’re occurring or anything, we don’t find out about it until after the gun has been sold once, twice a third time.”

One of the biggest challenges for police? There are no specific laws in Ohio regulating the private sale of guns, meaning background checks are not required.

“Especially with domestic violence arrests, it’s one of the key indicators that later on you might commit a homicide is that you have a previous domestic violence arrest, and to be able to check those is really important, and that that’s one of those things they describe as a loophole,” said Leeser.

Lesser acknowledges that there is still a great deal of work to be done, and the crime rate still isn’t where it was pre-pandemic, but he says they are not slowing up their efforts to crack down on gun violence.

“I would like them to know at this moment I can’t forgive them,” Tolbert-Rogers said. “But it will come. It will come with time.”

Police also give a lot of credit to the crime analysts that track the main areas where crimes are being committed so police can focus their patrols in those neighborhoods.

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