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After eight shootings last weekend that topped off a particularly violent June, Toledo police have issued a departmentwide notice requesting that officers join a new task force aimed at getting guns off the streets.
"It is absolutely necessary to get a handle on what's happened in the last couple weeks," Police Chief Mike Navarre said Monday. "We cannot allow this to continue and we won't allow this to continue."
In all, at least 24 people have been shot since the first of the month. The increased violence has not only led authorities to take action, but has altered the behavior of community members.
Justin Green, 2, was playing with toys and climbing trees Monday afternoon outside his apartment -- something his mother, Doris Johnson, said he doesn't get to do much these days; she fears it's too dangerous.
"I don't let him go outside to play and that's not right," Ms. Johnson, 43, said.
Just about an hour earlier, Toledo police were dispatched to Walnut Street and Michigan Avenue, just behind Ms. Johnson's apartment, for a report of about 10 men fighting and shots fired.
It's a reality that occurs all too often, neighbors said.
Chief Navarre said the violence has got to end.
The task force, which could be on the streets as early as this week, will be based out of the Scott Park station on Nebraska Avenue.
The task force will focus on spending time in the city's toughest neighborhoods during the hours of peak criminal activity -- typically in the late-night or early-morning hours.
Officers will be "very aggressive," Chief Navarre said.
They will make traffic stops and stop large groups of people hanging out on streets. Police will look for warrants and weapons and be "focused on stopping this gun violence."
The department will have to pay overtime, but it's the price to keep the city safe, the chief said. So far this year, eight people have been killed in the city.
The reported shooting at Walnut and Michigan has many worried.
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Walnut Carry-Out owner Amer Alghazzawi said he didn't hear the fighting or shooting, but knows all too well that violence plagues the neighborhood.
His store has been broken into several times and, about a month ago, there was a shooting just outside -- women and children who were near his store ran in for shelter.
Patrols in the area have increased, he said as a police cruiser drove by. The police presence has helped, but still, "people are scared," he said.
Chief Navarre said the department needs help from citizens to stop the violence.
"I need patience from this community," he said.
To solicit community help, the department is offering monetary rewards for information about two weekend shootings that were particularly troubling, Chief Navarre said. No one was fatally injured in any of the weekend incidents.
Around 10:45 p.m. Saturday, two groups of people got into an argument outside of a graduation party in the 600 block of Ranch Drive and opened fire on one another.
Using ballistics, police know there were at least three shooters; four people were shot in the incident, including a 16-year-old boy.
In the early hours of Saturday, 21-year-old Sean Johnson, was shot at West Bancroft Street and Sylvan Avenue.
Police recovered more than 60 shell casings from the scene.
"That's some serious gunfire," the chief said.
Police are offering a $2,500 reward for anyone with information that leads to the arrest and conviction of any of the shooters involved in either incident.
The department is also offering a reward of $1,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone who illegally possesses a firearm.
Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 419-255-1111 or to call the detective bureau at 419-245-3142.
The money used for the rewards will not come from taxpayer dollars, the chief stressed, but rather from the Law Enforcement Trust Fund, or money that is seized during investigations or from car auctions.
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Chief Navarre said the shooting on Ranch and a shooting Sunday night in the 400 block of Austin Street could be related because of the proximity in time.
During the investigation police also learned that people from the graduation party on Ranch had asked for a ride to North Toledo, not far from Austin.
Similar shell casings were found at both locations.
Ballistics showed that the casings were not from the same gun, but that doesn't mean police are ruling out a relationship, Chief Navarre said.
The chief also said he "believes for certain" the shootings on Ranch and at West Bancroft and Sylvan are gang-related.
Sandra Donnell, a life-long Toledoan, has lived on Sylvan Avenue for almost a year, but it wasn't until last Tuesday that she heard a gunshot near the home she shares with a friend. The next night, more gunfire.
She was out of town when the more than 60 shots rang out near her home over the weekend, but hearing about it "freaked her out," she said.
"The violence in this city has increased," she said. "It's horrible."
Ms. Donnell said she noticed an increase in crime around the time the economic trouble started. There seemed to be more gang activity and police officers were laid off.
"There's a shortage of police," she said. "We need more police officers. It's frightening."
Memorial to victim
- Police will create a task force of officers and pay overtime for more patrols late at night and early inthe morning in key crime areas.
- A $2,500 reward will be offered for information in recent shootings.
- A $1,000 reward will be offered for convictions of those who illegally possess firearms.
- Money for rewards is to come from the Law Enforcement Trust Fund.
At the Bethlehem Baptist Church, near Bancroft and Auburn Avenue, Deacon Fred Blanton said he has been talking about all of the gun violence with church members. The solution, he said, is to not allow anyone to have a firearm.
From the parking lot where he stood Monday, he could see the memorial dedicated to Montelle Taylor, a 17-year-old boy who was shot to death there on June 10.
"Each year brings more violence," he said. "This year is worse than last year. We didn't have this many shootings in that time period last year."
United Pastors for Social Empowerment, a group of about 12 pastors, mostly from Toledo's central city, has met with the police department, looking for ways to help end the violence.
The Rev. Donald Perryman, president of the group, said the issue "cannot continue to go unaddressed."
"We need to get the attention of others who can make a difference," he said. "There are a lot of kids who feel they have no stake in the community, kids who feel shut out."
'Too many guns'
Mr. Perryman's church, Center of Hope Community Church, and affiliated preschool, Creative Village Child Development Center, are working to use education to socialize children and make sure they don't get caught up in the violence.
The church has lost at least two parishioners to gun violence.
"There's too many guns on the streets," he said. "They're in the hands of children who aren't mature enough to handle something that dangerous. When you dump them in the streets, you should not look for good results."
With all of the shootings in the city, Mr. Perryman said, the community is "becoming numb because it's happening all the time."
"It's just like the rain," he said. "You get used to it."
Contact Taylor Dungjen at: email@example.com or 419-724-6054.