LIMA - Gun violence was on the rise in Lima during 2008, a police investigator said. A dizzying pace that had seen 300 reports of shots fired by mid-July never let up.
The number of calls nearly doubled from just a year earlier. Statistics released by the Lima Police Department show officers responded to 628 reports of shots fired in 2008, up from 328 in 2007.
"Anything gun-related is a big concern, especially a big increase. Any time a gun is shot inside the city limits with small confines, a lot of houses, a lot of people, whether it's a celebratory thing they forget what goes up must come down," Lt. Jim Baker said. "There's always a risk, there's always a danger. That's why there are ordinances about discharging or shooting firearms in the city. When we see an increase like that, it's a big concern."
Baker said it would be easy for police to deal with an increase with more officers or if there was a simple explanation for the increase. The reality, he said, is there is no single factor that explains what happened.
"Like any complex issue, there's not one single factor or one simple thing. It's certainly a combination of a lot of different things. One of the most troubling or most concerning things as a factor is the younger violence, the younger age of violence we're seeing," Baker said. "We started to see a bit of a resurgence in gang activity. We'd been blessed for quite awhile that gang activity, at least overtly, was not real common. We've seen a resurgence of that, a lot with the younger age."
Drug activity played a role as did an increase in so-called street justice, Baker said.
Despite the increase in number of calls, the city did not experience a dramatic increase in homicides or serious shootings.
Baker said there were only two officially classified homicides in Lima in 2008. Wendy Westergaard was shot and killed April 29 along West Market Street near St. Rita's Medical Center. In July, Michael Turay Smith was shot and killed at the Pine Food Mart, a convenience store at the corner of Pine and Kibby streets. There were no homicides in the city in 2007.
Baker said the January shooting death of Tarika Wilson was not officially listed as a homicide because the classification process "looks for willful intention."
"I believe we have been blessed in the fact that, any time a projectile leaves a gun at 1,500 feet per second, there's always a chance that somebody is going to be injured. We are extremely blessed that with the number of shots fired calls that we did have we haven't had more homicides or more serious injuries," Baker said. "I think it goes back to a lot of these shots fired calls, they aren't intending to kill anyone. I believe a lot of it is for show. A lot of it is the thrill of shooting a gun. We just can't have that happening."