GPD plans task force on violent crimes


Published: Monday, January 22, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 21, 2007 at 11:26 p.m.

With violent crimes up early last year and a string of high-profile, violent crimes in recent weeks, Gainesville Police plan to go on the offensive.

Facts

Cases the task force will examine

An increase in violent crime cases has prompted Gainesville Police to form a violent crime task force, which will examine specific cases, reasons for the increase and ways to prevent additional crimes.

  • The death of Grace Cason, 44, who was found shot behind St. Paul Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, 1008 NE 18th Terrace, on Nov. 12.
  • The deaths of Heather and Kira Radcliffe. The body of Radcliffe, 28, was found along with her 6-year-old daughter Kira in their burned home at 1715 NW 32nd Place on Dec. 9. The child died from the fire, which was determined to be arson. Police recently asked friends and co-workers who knew Radcliffe to be more forthcoming about information involving the timeline before her death. In spite of some success, police report no significant developments in the case.
  • The rape of a University of Florida college student inside her home in the College Park area north of campus on Jan. 14. Police have said the suspect stole green bedsheets from the residence that, if found, could hold forensic evidence to help solve the case.

The department will be starting a violent crime task force later this month, Police Chief Norman Botsford said.

"Their duties will be to concentrate on areas of gun crimes, sexual batteries and robberies in particular, and to try and make an impact both on those continuing crimes and stop future occurrences," he said. The task force also will be working with detectives on some recent violent crime cases, including two murder investigations and a rape case last week in which a stranger attacked a college student inside her home.

Botsford said an increase in violent crimes during the past year prompted the formation of the task force.

The city of Gainesville had a 16 percent increase in violent crime during the first six months of 2006, compared to 2005, according to an FBI report released last month. The same report showed a 56 percent increase in robberies in the city. Murder and arson reports doubled. The only category in the Uniform Crime Report with a decrease was motor vehicle theft. The report monitors the occurrence of crimes ranging from murder to burglary across the country.

Botsford noted the trend isn't isolated to Gainesville.

Overall, the report showed an increase in all crime categories nationwide except property crime.

Many major U.S. cities around the country reported a climb in homicides, among them Orlando and Jacksonville, the FBI figures showed.

Representatives from the Gainesville Police Department will speak at today's City Commission meeting about violent crime and steps the agency will be taking to reduce the number of these crimes in the city.

The agency also is looking at holding a communitywide summit on the issue.

"We need to take extraordinary effort to try and stem the crime any further," Botsford said.

Gainesville City Commissioner Scherwin Henry said he thinks the number of police officers and where they're being deployed are issues that should be considered. He said recent rapes and murders make the issue even more important.

"That's never anything to be taken lightly," he said.

The announcement from police about the task force comes the same week officers asked the public for help in locating evidence tied to the rape of a University of Florida college student in her home.

A 21-year-old woman told police an armed man broke into her residence in the College Park area just north of UF early on Jan. 14, tied her up and raped her. The same day, police received a report from another woman in the same neighborhood that she had been raped by an acquaintance. That same week, police received yet another report from a woman that she had been sexually battered by an acquaintance, and Alachua County sheriff's deputies were called to an apartment complex west of Interstate 75 where a woman said a stranger pulled her into her apartment at gunpoint and raped her.

Two murder investigations remain ongoing with police.

In early November, Grace Cason, 44, was found face down on the ground behind St. Paul Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, 1008 NE 18th Terrace. She had a gunshot wound to the head, police reported.

On Dec. 9, the bodies of Heather Radcliffe, 28, and her 6-year-old daughter Kira were discovered inside the burning remains of their home at 1715 NW 32nd Place. Radcliffe had been shot and the child died as a result of the fire, which was determined to be arson, according to police.

Suspects have not been named in either case and officers have publicly asked for help and information that could lead to an arrest.

Botsford said 11 officers, a sergeant and a lieutenant will be on the task force, which at this point will be a short-term assignment lasting about 90 to 120 days depending on the program's success.

The officers come from across the department and have a mixture of experience, from street patrol to investigations and community policing, according to police. The task force begins work next Monday and will be headed by Sgt. Keith Kameg, who also serves as the department's spokesman.

"In the past, he served in both patrol and narcotics and works directly out of my office," Botsford said.

Kameg has been with the police department for about 20 years and previously worked in narcotics investigations and the detective division. He has served in administration at the agency since 1996.

Kameg said the task force will be on call to assist detectives with ongoing and new investigations. It also will be keeping track of former inmates who return to the community, work to determine why certain areas seem to attract more crime and work with the State Attorney's Office on the progress of cases involving repeat offenders.

"One of the things we are going to be doing is attempting to work very hard at procuring new sources of information from people on the streets," Kameg said about his goals for the task force. "We are trying to shake the bushes of Gainesville."

Lise Fisher can be reached at 374-5092 or fisherl@ gvillesun.com.

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