Shots Fired: Understanding Gun Violence in Mansfield
This is the sixth installment in a nine-part series focused on gun violence and possible ideas to address this issue in Mansfield. These stories will run on consecutive days starting Oct. 8 and running through Oct. 16. Links to previous stories in this series are at the bottom of this piece.
MANSFIELD — Ryan Grimshaw works the front lines in the battle against gun violence.
The 39-year-old Grimshaw, a sergeant now in his 16th year as a Mansfield police officer, sees it face-to-face in his work on patrol and now as the leader of the department’s new Community Action Team.
He has looked into the eyes of the young people who have pulled the triggers.
“We’ve sat down and we’ve really had some success in interviewing some of the people. And we’ve (asked) ‘Why did you shoot at him?’
“There was one incident in which the guy said, ‘He smiled at me and showed me his gun. So I thought that was an invite to a shootout.’ It was just that much,” Grimshaw said.
“In another one, we had video that a kid rode by on a bicycle and it looks like he throws up some kind of gang sign with his hand. (Another) kid pulls out a gun (and) starts firing rounds at him.
“That’s all it took. Not even an exchange of words. It was that quick for them to respond with shooting,” Grimshaw said.
Gun violence rising around the country
Mansfield is no different from other cities across the country which have seen a wave of increased gun violence in recent years. Mansfield has seen nine shooting homicides in 2023, the latest coming Tuesday night when a 42-year-old man was killed in an apartment building.
The national numbers show no one has come up with perfect solutions.
As of Sept. 13, according to the website gunviolencearchive.org, there have been 30,383 gun deaths in the United States in 2023, including 13,487 homicides.
More Americans died of gun-related injuries in 2021 (48,830) than in any other year on record, according to the latest available statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That includes record numbers of both gun murders and gun suicides.
According to a story published at NPR.org in late June, gun violence in the United States has reached epidemic status.
“I would certainly consider the problem of firearm injuries and firearm violence as an epidemic in the United States,” said Patrick Carter, director of the University of Michigan Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention, whose research is partly funded by the National Institutes of Health.
“When we think about what the term epidemic means, it means a sudden increase in the numbers, or incidents, of an event over what would be considered a baseline level,” Carter told NPR’s Morning Edition.
Law enforcement trying varying solutions
Law enforcement agencies around the United States have reacted with a range of reactive and proactive strategies, according to a Rand Corp. study published in 2020.
The exhaustive 26-page study concluded there was not enough “strong evidence for the best approaches to improving case clearance.”
This summer, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and City of Cleveland officials decided to flood the market with law enforcement in an attempt to turn the tide due to rising gun deaths and car thefts.
The Ohio State Highway Patrol, Ohio Narcotics Intelligence Center, Ohio Investigative Unit, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, and the Ohio Department of Youth Services partnered with Cleveland police and other local and federal authorities on a sustained violence reduction initiative in four specific precincts.
The law enforcement surges resulted in numerous arrests and gun seizures.
But these kind of directed patrols, aka “putting cops on dots,” do not provide long-term solutions, according to the Rand study. They also tend to ignore the social conditions that generate crime in a particular location.
In addition, they can create concerns among residents and organizations.
Black Lives Matter Cleveland co-founder Kareem Henton told Clevescene.com that law enforcement was using the effort as a pretext for car stops in certain neighborhoods.
“They’re pulling you out of the car, they’re searching your car … It’s just a fishing expedition and it’s also just stop and frisk,” Henton said. “That’s all it is. Stop and frisk that starts off with them having a B.S. pretext to the stop.
“That type of over-policing is not what our community needs.”
Treat violence as a contagious disease
In May, two Mansfield-area organizations began to explore community-based solutions to gun violence after five people were shot to death in the first five months of 2023.
An informational session was arranged by the North End Community Improvement Collaborative and OhioHealth Mansfield, which arranged a Zoom meeting with leaders of Cure Violence Global.
Violence should be treated as a contagious disease, a true public health issue, according to a R. Brent Decker, chief program officer for CVG, during a meeting with 32 local leaders.
The program strategically deploys violence interrupters, individuals with first-hand experience in violence-prone communities, who work to mediate conflicts before they escalate.
CVG works with local organizations to train local residents to work in the community. He said CVG doesn’t open local operations.
“These are folks that are from the community, that have lived the experience, that have credibility with those who are likely to be involved in violence.”
Unfortunately, the expense of the program was deemed cost prohibitive, leaving local community leaders to explore other options. Those efforts continue.
‘The police department can’t fix families’
The fact it’s just not a local problem doesn’t afford a great deal of satisfaction for the Mansfield Police Department and local residents who hear the shots being fired too often in their neighborhoods.
Police Chief Keith Porch said he knows there are limits when it comes to law enforcement agencies providing solutions to a rising gun violence issue in the community.
“The police department can’t fix homes. It can’t fix families. It can’t give youth more opportunities,” the chief said.
“At the end of the day, the police department will always be involved in the community and with stakeholders with programs to try to reduce violence.
“But never forget, the primary mission of the police department is to arrest offenders, committing crimes that break the law, and holding them accountable.
“That’s the primary mission as the chief of police that I owe to every citizen in this community,” Porch said.
But that doesn’t mean the 29-year law enforcement officer isn’t trying new things to combat an issue that has seen his department already investigate eight gun murders in 2023 — the highest total in more than than a decade.
MPD launches Community Action Team
In September 2022, Porch decided the time — and manpower — was right to launch an idea that had been under discussion for the last few years.
“It got to a point, as we have seen what’s happening in the city with the gun violence, that we needed a team of officers not only to address those issues, but any chronic issues that may pop up within the community,” said Porch, a Mansfield Senior High School graduate and the chief since 2019.
In a short-staffed department, the chief said it wasn’t yet possible to create the full-time, four-member team he wanted.
In an ideal world, he would put a supervisor and three officers on the streets devoted solely to the CAT team mission of “prevention, interdiction and solutions” on issues that include surveillance, violent offenders, firearms, gang enforcement, street racing/cruising and quality-of-life issues.
The chief, who joined the MPD in 1999 after five years in the Richland County Sheriff’s Office, opted for a part-time team of a supervisor and two officers.
That group would work on the team’s missions during their normal work hours when possible and put in overtime hours as needed.
“They still do their normal shifts as officers within the police department,” Porch said. “So when there are certain events or certain activities they’re working on it, they can work it on their shift if manning allows.
“If that is going to require them to come in on overtime, they can do that. I give (Grimshaw) the latitude to do that. What’s important to me is this team has to be proactive and work around the clock if needed,” the chef said.
“My main goal is to stabilize the patrol section within the police department. I have pulled (officers) from METRICH. I have pulled from the detective section. I’ve had to pull from community policing.
“I don’t want to keep dumping on the patrol section. It is our bread and butter. Those calls have to be answered. But we also have to be able to do more proactive things, like this Community Action Team,” Porch said.
As described in the Rand study, the CAT team effort would primarily fall under the proactive approach, using pieces of two of the four elements identified.
— place-based, focusing on the places where the most violent gun crimes are committed.
— person-focused on individuals at high risk of being perpetrators or victims of violent crimes committed with guns.
The other two elements, which are not central tenets of the local CAT team approach, are focused on problem-solving, which addresses he underlying causes of violent gun crime; and community-based, which uses community resources and social connections to counter gun crimes.
But the Rand researchers pointed that any kind of proactive approach is more effective than the standard police response — specifically the random patrol and arrest functions.
“The evidence for the mechanisms behind proactive policing is stronger, and the recent National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2018) evaluation was cautiously optimistic about these approaches, particularly in the short term,” Rand researchers said.
‘Our main focus is attacking gun violence’
The new CAT began work late in 2022, but stepped up its efforts after attending training at the National Gang Crime Research Center conference in Chicago in March.
Grimshaw, who has earned a master’s degree in criminal justice, said he values training. He spent a year assigned to the METRICH drug task force, gaining experience in surveillance, drug investigations and working with search warrants.
“Since I have worked here, I have always wanted to better myself and educate myself and go to as many trainings as I can,” the Wooster-area native said. “I came to Mansfield because I wanted to work in a bigger, decent-sized city as a police officer.”
“(CAT members) had noticed the upturn in violent crime. Through social media, we noticed a lot more activity with the groups and the gangs in town,” Grimshaw said.
“We looked for training to go toward helping us combat that problem. That’s why we went to Chicago.”
The unit returned from Chicago just in time to help battle a wave of gun violence and homicides, also facing the fact the quality of weapons being used by the criminals has dramatically increased, including guns converted into automatics and larger magazines.
Porch and Assistant Chief Jason Bammann made the decision to make the CAT a full-time effort for a month after a spate of spring homicides.
“Our main goal was trying to get ahead of (the gun violence. In general, major crimes (detectives) respond and investigate after the incidents occur. Our goal is to try to get ahead of it,” the sergeant said.
“We use intelligence and we kind of start trying to focus on the people we know were the shooters in town. We knew the guys that were having a lot of the gun offenses and wanted to try to get ahead and get some of them in jail and off the street to try to slow down the homicides,” Grimshaw said.
“A lot of that is being proactive. We try to figure out where they’re staying, where they’re living, try to do surveillance. We know these guys are carrying guns. We know most of them are involved in drug sales. So if we can get any charges like that on them, we’ll keep them off the street and maybe stop further violence,” he said.
CAT chasing down gang members
The CAT has borne fruit from its work.
“We’ve made 10 gun cases so far this year. Out of those cases, five of those guns were Glocks. Two of those Glocks were fully automatic and another one was a Sig Sauer. You’re talking about quality firearms there,” Grimshaw said.
Working with new Richland County Prosecutor Jodie Schumacher, the unit has worked to obtain gang-related indictments against nine suspects. One of those cases has gone to court and a conviction obtained.
Grimshaw praised the work of Schumacher and her team in helping to use Ohio Revised Code 2923, designed to punish criminal gang members by adding a second-degree felony to other related charges.
It’s not a tool that’s been used often in Richland County.
“Jodie Schumacher’s really worked well with us with on these cases. Her office has really been on board. Those are complex cases that we haven’t really dealt with yet,” he said.
In the law, a “criminal gang” is ongoing formal or informal organization, association, or group of three or more persons to which all of the following apply:
(1) It has as one of its primary activities the commission of one or more offenses like murder, attempted murder or conspiring to commit murder;
(2) It has a common name or one or more common, identifying signs, symbols, or colors.
(3) The persons in the organization, association, or group individually or collectively engage in or have engaged in a pattern of criminal gang activity.
“They have to have at least two felonies in a five-year span,” Grimshaw said. “The group that we’ve really been focusing on, in which we have got got nine of them indicted, that group has more than 50 combined felony convictions.
“The oldest ones in that group are in their early 20s, 21, 22. They’re a group that we really wanted to focus on because we also knew they were very active with the gun violence and gun activity,” he said.
Prosecutor: Gangs continue to evolve locally
Schumacher said “gangs” have evolved and changed over the years, forming and reforming and forming again in the search for money and profit.
“I think even locally, we can talk about going back where we saw these affiliations, there was clear delineations between (gangs) and you never cross that line,” she said.
“Now we’re seeing affiliations with one group at one particular time, and then an individual jumping over and affiliating with another group at another particular time. And maybe even jumping back over and affiliating with that other group again,” the prosecutor said.
Profit, not protection, is the driving force behind gang activity today, Schumacher said.
“Maybe I’ve just grown and matured in my profession and I’m understanding it deeper. On the surface, maybe it looks like protection, but really at the heart of it, it’s for profit. I think there’s definitely a profit that’s trying to be obtained.
“We see in some of the videos there’s a lot of money being flashed by these individuals. There’s a lot of guns being shown during the course of these videos. There seems to be an appeal, I think, for this image that they’re trying to portray,” Schumacher said.
The prosecutor praised the work of the Mansfield Police Department and the CAT for providing cases that can be prosecuted included the gang law.
“MPD has taken on the gang focus and I know they have some dedicated officers to that who have done some specific training. I know with the guns, and I know the (Richland County) Sheriff’s Office deals with some of these same individuals that the Mansfield Police Department deals with.
“We are all kind of interconnected. We’re all dealing with the same issues. We’re all trying to achieve the same common ground,” Schumacher said.
The future of the Community Action Team
As the Rand study noted, communities cannot arrest themselves out of a gun violence problem.
It will require a combination of law enforcement and prosecution, as well as social service and community efforts to improve the lives of young people and others to reduce the need for criminal behavior.
Part of the solution could be found in simply working with young people to improve personal interactions, problem solving and enhanced one-on-one, face-to-face social skills — rather than social media insults and disrespect.
Incoming Mansfield Law Director Rollie Harper said he plans to make solving these issues a proactive priority when he takes office in January.
“What I see right now is the byproduct of not being able to interact and get those kinds of social skills because they’re going to need them.
“What’s going to happen is they are going to react in a way that is totally inappropriate. Somebody’s going to grab a gun someplace and go shoot somebody. Or they’re going to do some kind of funny drive by, or whatever it is.
“Based on that lack of social skills, we have to get back in touch with ourselves and learn how to communicate with people. Otherwise, you’re just gonna end up in prison. Or dead,” said Harper, whose father was the former Mansfield police chief and longtime officer.
But until then, Porch said Grimshaw and the CAT, his detective bureau, METRICH and the patrol section will keep pressing on the streets.
“Ryan has always been a highly motivated officer here. What’s important to me and to Jason, when we started talking about this team, we need the right officers in these positions out doing, these duties that are downright dangerous,” Porch said.
“So when we’re talking about trying to curb violent crime, and especially gun crime, we need highly motivated and productive officers in those spots,” the chief said. “This team is bearing fruit.”
Bammann said CAT is making a name for itself in the city.
“One of the things I’ve kind of judged over my career regarding success is: If you’re hearing it on the street, you know you’re making an impact,” the assistant chief said.
“The streets talk. Without going into great detail, the word is on the street right now. They’re aware of these three (CAT officers). They’re aware of what they’re doing and these people are already going to great lengths to try to erase the last few years because they know that we’re coming after them.”