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In wake of 4 recent gun deaths, Springfield police chief shares public safety data report with council

Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams listens to City Council proceedings on Monday, November 20, 2023, before presenting a public safety data report to the council members.
Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams listens to City Council proceedings on Monday, November 20, 2023, before presenting a public safety data report to the council members.

At the city council meeting on Monday night, Springfield’s police chief presented data showing positive trends with some types of Springfield crime incidents, despite what he characterized as a significant gun violence problem.

"The community needs to step up and help us to prevent gun violence," Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams told reporters Monday night. "And they can’t just depend on the police department to respond after the fact and pick up the shell casings and arrest the bad guys.”

By now you may have heard of the series of gun deaths inside Springfield city limits over the past three weeks. Williams told Springfield City Council on Monday night that shots fired is a "huge" problem, ongoing in the community.

Police said that on October 28, 33-year-old Jacob Gatten died in the hospital after multiple shots were fired on a street in southeast Springfield.

On November 13, 32-year-old Lacey Nix was shot and killed in a neighborhood toward the western edge of town.

On Tuesday the 14th, 26-year-old Chaviz Nguyen was killed in a drive-by shooting that rocked the downtown community, as he died at the scene, just blocks from the restaurant his family owns. Along with two juveniles, a 19-year-old suspect was identified and arrested by police. Prosecutors charged the adult, Elysha Bedell, with crimes including first-degree murder.

Court records show that on Monday morning, Bedell represented himself without a lawyer before Judge Josephine Stockard and pleaded not guilty. After the shooting death of Nguyen, Bedell was also charged in a separate case dating back to April of this year. He’s accused of tampering with a vehicle, possessing oxycodone and unlawful use of a weapon.

In a police report linked to that second case, investigators allege that Bedell was also a suspect in another shooting incident dating back to the summer of 2019. According to the report, that 2019 victim was “uncooperative,” so charges were not filed. Williams told Ozarks Public Radio he couldn’t comment on the ongoing investigation.

Then on Saturday, November 18, 25-year-old Nathan Williams was shot at the Price Cutter on St. Louis Street and National Avenue. No arrest has been made, but police questioned the person who shot him. A police spokesperson told Ozarks Public Radio over the weekend that the case is still under investigation.

With all of that in the background, Police Chief Williams presented one of his regularly scheduled public safety reports to City Council and called a brief news conference afterwards.

Citing data for this year through the end of September, Williams said crimes against persons are actually slightly down from last year. Murder is down by 8.3% compared to 2022. Rape is down 28%.

Crimes against property are down roughly 16.5%, particularly thefts of items from inside vehicles and thefts of car parts. Thefts of handguns from vehicles has been falling since a peak of 228 incidents in 2020. So far this year, police recorded just 125 handgun thefts from cars and other vehicles.

Williams said, “First I’ll say that the officers do a fantastic job of responding and coordinating and, you know, we solve those crimes. I would prefer to prevent them, though.”

Williams and others at Monday night’s council meeting pointed to new efforts by the community to address gun violence, notably a recently formed group called the Gun Safety and Violence Collaborative run by Community Partnership of the Ozarks. Its co-chairs include longtime community advocate Francine Pratt along with Clay Goddard, an executive with Burrell Behavioral Health.

Gregory Holman is a KSMU reporter and editor focusing on public affairs.