When Officer Dustin Darling was shot while on duty in August, it reinforced what La Crosse Police Chief Shawn Kudron already knew: Gun crimes are becoming more serious and more common in the La Crosse community.
“This is not what should be happening in the La Crosse community, and this is not what our officers should be facing. This needs to stop,” Kudron said.
Kudron and Capt. Jason Melby have raised concerns about gun crimes in La Crosse and the department seized 49 firearms as evidence — which means they were used in a crime — in 2018, compared to 39 in 2012.
“We knew prior to that incident that gun crime was on the rise and this just put as big of an exclamation point on that fact. One of our officers who is out there serving our community and keeping our community safe has now been victimized by gun crime, been shot,” Kudron said.
On Aug. 3, Darling responded to a domestic incident on South Ninth and Cass streets. During the incident, Kruk pointed a stolen gun at Darling and both men shot the other one, according to the criminal complaint. Darling was saved by his bullet-resistant vest, treated at a local hospital and released that same day.
Kruk was charged in September with attempted homicide and remains in the La Crosse County Jail.
While Darling is back at work, the incident was hard on La Crosse police officers.
“I’ll be honest, it was absolutely shocking. Just the nature of worry about your staff, the officer, everybody involved, was something that none of us had had to deal with,” Kudron said.
A La Crosse police officer was last shot in the line of duty Nov. 2, 1989, when Officer Gary Clements was saved by his bullet-resistant vest when Timothy J. Dummer shot four rounds through a door, striking him in the chest. He required six surgeries on his wrist, which was torn apart by a shotgun blast, according to Tribune files.
“It was the first time in 30 years that we’ve had an officer actually shot in the line of duty. It’s just a hallmark of these types of incidents, not to mention the danger of the community and quite frankly the danger to the actual offender themselves,” Melby said.
Police had noticed anecdotally that guns were more prevalent out in the community during the past few years. When the department crunched the numbers, police saw that they received 13 reports of shots fired in 2018 and 16 reports of a suspicious person with a gun in 2018, compared to seven reports of each in 2012.
“People within our community are deciding to carry guns and to utilize firearms to try and solve their problems,” Kudron said. “There’s been a bit of a shift or a change over time.”
Reports of shots fired or guns are much more frequent now than when Melby was out on the streets, he said, and it’s less likely to be something like someone misinterpreting the sound of fireworks as gunshots.
In particular, Melby noted that 19 people were arrested on a charge of felon in possession of a firearm in 2018, compared to eight in 2012.
“These are the exact people in our community who should not have a gun,” Melby said.
It changes the way police do their jobs, Kudron said.
“Officers have a heightened sense of awareness on everything that we do. When it’s a gun call, that’s obviously multiplied,” he said. “It simply makes it more difficult because you know what can happen with a firearm.”
Not only does it make incidents such as robberies and domestic violence more dangerous, Kudron also said the department is on the lookout for active shooter incidents.
“We know that we’re not immune to having some sort of incident happen like what’s happened in other cities or schools or towns,” Kudron said.
Gun crimes are taken seriously at every level, said La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke.
“People who demonstrate their willingness to use a gun – especially if they have a gun they’re not supposed to have – that’s an extra element of criminality compared to people who maybe just have a bad day and get in a fight,” Gruenke said.
Even if the gun isn’t used, it adds an element of danger and terror for victims, he said.
“Victims are more damaged, victims are more afraid, the community is more afraid,” Gruenke said.
That element of danger is taken into account when prosecutors determine what bonds and sentences to ask a judge for. Rather than a signature bond, Gruenke’s office will ask for a high cash bond to ensure the safety of the community.
Gun crimes are difficult to investigate, because people are often disinclined to answer police questions, Melby said. The firearms themselves are also difficult to trace. Many are stolen, purchased through straw buyers or traded for drugs.
“Most of the time if we find a gun, we might be able to say it’s stolen, but that’s as far as we’ll get,” Gruenke said.
While Gruenke said most local gun stores are responsible, he encouraged gun owners to keep their firearms secured to stop burglars from taking them.
Melby said it will take the whole community to help address gun crime. People need to come forward to share what they know with police, and the criminal-justice system needs to get together and talk about how to effectively investigate and prosecute these types of crimes.
“Having people show up in the hospital with holes in them and not wanting to talk to police is not a good thing for our community,” Melby said. “As a criminal-justice system, we need to make sure we’re addressing these types of scenarios as effectively as possible and holding people accountable.”
The La Crosse Police Department is doing that by bolstering its relationship with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Western Wisconsin District of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, as well as the La Crosse County District Attorney’s Office. They are able to learn from the other agencies to evolve their investigative efforts and build a case more effectively.
“The overriding goal is to get dangerous people out of our community that are carrying guns,” Melby said.
Sometimes that means having them federally prosecuted, rather than charged in La Crosse County Circuit Court.
“For people who are very dangerous, that has a little bit more of a deterrent effect and a little bit more control of the person,” Gruenke said.
It helps Gruenke as well, who can then allocate his resources to other local crimes.
“Any time they’re willing to help us, to take some of our cases, I’m fine with it,” Gruenke said.
Kudron and Melby hope to have a communitywide conversation to empower the community to put a stop to gun crimes.
“We need the community’s help to solve these crimes,” Melby said.
Richard Sweeney II
Richard L. Sweeney II, 54, Onalaska, was charged Nov. 26 with felony bail jumping. Sweeney violated terms of a previous bond by consuming alcohol Nov. 15, according to the complaint.
Dominique D. Gordon
Cydney R. Jelen, 26, La Crosse, was charged Nov. 21 with uttering a forgery, theft of movable property and fraudulent use of a credit card. Jelen took $500 from a woman in the spring, used a man’s debit card to spend $2,000 on Amazon over the summer and forged two checks in September, according to the complaint.
Rory Deer Jr
Jamie L. Kirby, 28, West Salem, was charged Nov. 19 with felony bail jumping, possession of narcotic drugs and possession of cocaine. Kirby had heroin and cocaine Nov. 1 when she was the passenger in a car pulled over for an illegal tint, according to the complaint.
Luis A. Jimenez
Luis A. Jimenez, 32, La Crosse, was charged Nov. 15 with felony bail jumping. Jimenez violated terms of a previous bond Nov. 8 by consuming alcohol, according to the complaint.
Neal Jensen Jr
Patrick G. Berger
Patrick G. Berger, 29, La Crosse, was charged Nov. 15 with fourth-offense operating a motor vehicle while under the influence, fourth-offense operating with a restricted controlled substance in blood, felony bail jumping, possession of narcotic drugs, possession of drug paraphernalia and retail theft. Berger was pulled over Nov. 12 in downtown La Crosse for driving erratically and failed several field sobriety tests, according to the complaint. A search of his vehicle revealed heroin and a glass pipe. Berger also stole a car battery Oct. 29 from Walmart, according to the complaint.
Katie R. McCune, 41, La Crosse, was charged Nov. 14 with possession of methamphetamine as a repeat offender. McCune had methamphetamine in her purse Nov. 5 when she was arrested and cited for retail theft, according to the complaint.
Dale Peterson Jr.
Dale B. Peterson Jr., 69, Bangor, was charged Nov. 14 with fourth-offense operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated. Peterson was pulled over Nov. 7 for deviating in his lane and admitted to drinking, according to the complaint.
Laura M. Raymond
Nemo Yang, 22, Holmen, was charged Nov. 6 with felony bail jumping, possession of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia. A backpack with 0.09 grams of meth and several meth pipes were found under Yang’s seat during an Oct. 30 traffic stop, according to the complaint.
Anjelica L. Pitzer, 32, Wauzeka, Wis., was charged Nov. 5 with felony bail jumping, possession of methamphetamine, misdemeanor theft and possession of drug paraphernalia. Pitzer had a straw with meth inside and hundreds of syringes when she was arrested Nov. 4 for taking $157.35-worth of items from the La Crosse Walmart, according to the criminal complaint.
The following people have been charged with a felony in La Crosse County.
The following people have been charged with a felony in La Crosse County.
The building at 333 Vine St. is a criminal justice hub. The La Crosse County Courthouse and Law Enforcement Center, which opened in 1997 with …
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