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'A Runaway Train:' Shootings Steady But Concerns About Youths With Guns

Jack McQueen, of the Bloomington Police Department, speaks to the Criminal Justice Coordinating Countil on Thursday.

The number of shootings in Bloomington-Normal is steady compared to previous years, but law enforcement is concerned about the increasing intensity of gun violence among young people.

Jack McQueen, who supervises crime and intelligence analysis for the Bloomington Police Department, described the culture of violence among youth as a “runaway train.”

“There’s just an obsession with obtaining firearms, still, and an obsession with higher capacity firearms,” said McQueen, who made his comments to the McLean County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) during its quarterly meeting on Thursday.

As a result of a youth infatuation with firearms, McQueen said even minor disputes have the potential to escalate into gun violence. And with the proliferation of high-capacity magazines, a single incident of violence can yield catastrophic results. 

“When you have a shooting anymore, it’s not one or two shots,” McQueen said. “It’s 30 shots, it’s 20 shots --it’s whatever’s in that clip.”

McQueen said that in analyzing data, law enforcement is starting to look at the number of people shot, rather than just the number of shootings. 

In Bloomington-Normal, there were 33 confirmed shooting incidents in 2019 and a total of 12 people were shot; 2020 recorded 27 shootings and 11 people shot. 

By comparison, 2016 saw 41 shootings, but only 8 people shot. 

So though the number of incidents may be holding steady, the violence is rising. McQueen said the data bears out similar trends across central Illinois, where some cities have doubled their numbers of people shot over the past three years. He noted that Peoria recorded 136 people shot in 2020, with 14 homicides. 

McQueen said that compared to nearby cities like Peoria and Champaign, Bloomington-Normal’s numbers are remarkably low. He attributed that relative success to “very, very tight law enforcement coordination here” with a specialized focus on youth offenders. 

“When we have a youth at 16 or 17 years of age that’s been involved in 15 or so gun incidents here or in other counties, maybe Chicago, we all know about it,” said McQueen. He said law enforcement then trains a “magnifying glass” on the individual, tracking their progress until “they fix themselves, they get help from somebody else through program referrals, or sometimes become incarcerated.”

McQueen said the key to decreased shootings is a proactive, cooperative system that stays on top of individual cases. He said by monitoring social media and “other investigative processes,” law enforcement regularly confiscates handguns from juveniles and adult felons, who aren’t legally allowed to possess them. 

Chief Judge Mark Fellheimer, who serves on the council, reinforced the importance of coordination among different sectors of law enforcement. He said the CJCC was expanding its focus to study the progression of juveniles into adult courts “to try to find a nexus or some explanation” for repeat offenses over time. 

The council also is working with the Stevenson Center at Illinois State Univeristy to collect and analyze data involving people who were incarcerated as juvniles and adults, and those who were adjudicated as both juveniles and adults. 

Frank Beck, of the Stevenson Center, told the council he hopes to present a report to the CJCC in April. 

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