‘Stand up and say it’: A police chief’s plea to bring shooters to justice & the patterns behind the teens pulling the trigger
DECATUR, Ill. (WCIA) — More than a quarter of gun violence victims in the City of Decatur this year have been 17 or younger (11 out of 40), according to Police Chief Shane Brandel.
Teenagers and children as young as 12 years old are ending up both in front of and behind the trigger, he said.
It’s not a crisis unique to the city, but it was exacerbated this weekend with the loss of a 14-year-old girl and another three teenagers sent to the hospital.
“Disheartening” was the term Chief Brandel used to describe the scene officers responded to early Sunday morning. The gunfire began at the tail-end of a graduation party.
“It’s sad when you can have 100 people know exactly what happened, but nobody has the decency, and I use that word, intentionally, decency to come forward and say, ‘This is a line that nobody should cross and you did, and you should be held accountable to it.’ And, it’s sickening,” he said.
That’s the number one barrier to solving cases, he says, as teenagers are getting shot and killed at a growing rate.
Most shootings this year have gone unsolved, according to data reporters compiled from police department press releases.
“You know, without having the data in front of me, I can’t say,” Brandel said when asked if that’s a complete picture.
“But I would say that it’s not unusual in certain cases, where there’s a non-fatal shooting, that it does go unsolved.”
Police may know who the shooter is, he said, “But an anonymous caller telling us who’s involved in it isn’t evidence to support an arrest.”
They know it’s wrong. Stand up and say it. Because until we as a community draw that line, then it doesn’t exist.Shane Brandel, Decatur Police Chief
Where arrests have been made, a trend is clear: A high percentage of people pulling the trigger are teenagers.
“We’ve arrested a 14-year-old for shooting, for like three of them,” he said. “That used to be unheard of.”
The chief claimed easier access to weapons in the last few years, in part, for why guns are more often landing in the hands of kids.
“These aren’t like, you know, the old gangs of the Gangster Disciples or the vice lords, you don’t have that really anymore,” he continued.
“You have little groups that will call themselves some name, and there might be 10 or 15, you know, teenagers that are involved in this group. And there’s no real leadership to that.”
The allegiance is primarily divided among neighborhoods, Brandel said, but since there isn’t an organized crime group to address, officers’ focus shifts to individuals.
“It’s not uncommon at all that we arrest juveniles for offenses like armed robbery or aggravated discharge or possession of weapons. Maybe they get detained. Maybe they get detained for a day,” he emphasized.
“And then they’re right back out on the street. All that does is reaffirm the no consequence principle and they’re right back at what they were doing.”
Decatur City Councilmember David Horn also requested that when community members “see something,” they “say something.”
“So the city of Decatur is reaching out to all of our citizens,” he said. “Decatur has all of the ingredients in place for a successful recipe to reduce gun violence, we just need to put all of those ingredients together.”
Improvement takes mentorship at school and at home, and a dedication from the city and local employers to provide activities and employment for teens, particularly in the summer, he said.
Overall, shootings are down slightly year over year (40 as of the end of July in 2022, 45 at the same time in 2021), but murders have already surpassed last year’s total and Brandel worries one of his own could be next.
“I fear what’s going to happen one of these days. We’ve had it, we had, you know, a foot chase here not too long ago, where [they] turned around and fired at the officer,” he said referring to a January foot chase where 6-year veteran officer Stephanie Vail was shot at and injured.
23-year-old Joseph L.V. Williams was arrested the same day.
That was one of four officer-involved shootings in the last year, according to Brandel. Meanwhile, officers are increasingly out-gunned.
“We’re talking a 50-round drum on a handgun that’s been converted to full auto. There is a problem with that,” he said.
The chief says progress is on the horizon. A team of 10 officers on the department’s Community Action Response Team (CAT) recovered 35 guns this summer, but not without several highly dangerous foot chases.