New Violent Crime Suppression Unit sparks drastic drop in gun violence

Published: Dec. 29, 2020 at 5:16 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - 2020 is ending much safer than Green Bay Police thought it would months ago when the the city was seeing a dramatic increase in shootings.

Investigators tell us they’ve received a record 60 shots fired calls this year, but the violence is slowing now, thanks in large part to the work of the new Violent Crime Suppression Unit, a specialized group of officers tasked with curbing violent crimes.

Images of barricaded streets, crime scene tape and cars riddle with bullet holes became too common as gun violence in Green Bay hit a peak in October.

Frustrations were mounting that innocent people would be caught in the crossfire.

That’s when the city created the VCSU -- the Violent Crime Suppression Unit.

“Our main goal has just been to identify the players involved in these shootings,” said Officer Kyle Harnish.

Harnish, who is one officer on the five-person unit, recently drove us through the city to neighborhoods where, in two short months, the group has already left its mark.

“We put a very good dent into what’s been going on here,” said Harnish, as we drove to one area of the city’s west side.

A nuisance abatement truck now sits there, near Ricky and Vine Streets, where the sound of gunfire had been growing common.

Reestablishing peace there and elsewhere in the city required patience and persistence.

“A real big part of this is intelligence gathering, surveillance, building cases on people, finding out where they’re going, where they’re coming from,” explained Harnish.

Cooperation from witnesses and even victims was nearly non-existent, making their job more challenging.

The first step was figuring out who’s involved.

“There’s a lot of family ties, whether it be close relatives or distant,” explained Harnish as we drove. “There’s a lot of... this person shares a child with this person who’s feuding with the other person who’s currently dating that third person.”

He described it as a ‘convoluted, intertwined web’ of people who’ve lived in the area a long time but just don’t like each other.

“I equivocate it to high school drama and people don’t like what other people are saying about them,” said Harnish. “It’s just high school immaturity from adults, and people are getting shot over it.”

And he said they’ve found some people are being targeted simply for knowing someone in these feuding groups.

What they have not found is a strong connection to gangs or drugs or money, something that came as a bit of surprise to officers.

Since hitting the streets in October, the number of shootings has dropped dramatically.

Police report only five shots fired calls since then.

“The word is out there that this unit formed and is being very successful,” said Harnish.

“It’s about building relationships in the community, and it’s been huge,” says Green Bay Police Capt. Ben Allen, who’s leading the unit. “Building that trust, and I think the big piece is giving those neighborhoods back to the people that live in them, so they’re a bit more willing to talk about the small things that are happening now so we don’t lead up to that big rash of shootings or violent crime that we saw.”

Part of that success involves community police, detectives and patrol officers keeping their presence in neighborhoods, even after the VCSU has moved on.

Harnish said the combination of all this needs to be a permanent solution, so any suspects who may have left the city, trying to wait out the VCSU’s tenure, won’t return and refuel violence.

“And if this unit stays a full-time thing, that’s going to be impossible for them to do,” he added.

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