It’s Tuesday and Akron police Lt. Jason Malick waits for his Gun Violence Reduction Team to assemble. The team’s been operating for about five years as part of the Street Narcotics Uniform Detail, made up of uniformed and undercover police.

If you haven’t heard much about the Gun Violence Reduction Team or narcotics detail, it’s to be expected. They work in the city’s highest crime areas, and much of what they do is undercover.

“We do a lot of things that go on behind the scenes,” Malick said.

Tonight, Malick and his men are going to patrol two areas covered by a grant to reduce gun violence in the city: sections of Arlington and Copley roads. They are the two areas Akron police identified as the top spots for gun violence within the city when they applied for a gun-fighting grant. The city received $55,000 from the federal government to tackle gun violence, and this night's effort is made possible by those funds.

“We target the worst of the worst,” Malick said. “We’re not here to stop everyone who runs a stop sign.”

Akron’s effort to get guns off the streets is multifaceted, Malick explains. The police partner with organizations based in the neighborhoods they target and use tips from residents living there. There are sources with inside information, but Malick doesn’t want to talk much about that. The topic is too sensitive.

“When we work like this, we’re very successful,” Malick said. “The guys who work on these units have big-time experience and work sources well.”

"Working like this" means focusing on individuals known to be violent. Saturated patrols, in which an area is targeted, can destroy community good will. Akron police are serious about developing partnerships and opening lines of communication, Malick says, not wrecking them.

 

A little after 6 p.m.

It’s time to start.

Malick and his team assemble around a large oval table in a meeting room. There is discussion of leads, recent gun-related events and the plan for the night. About 20 law enforcement personnel have gathered for the effort, which is conducted in addition to regular police patrols. 

“This grant is going to allow us to go after known offenders,” Malick says. A recent operation netted a couple of seized guns and a host of other charges.

Akron police know who’s behind much of the gun violence in the city, he says. It’s a matter of catching them before they commit another act of violence.

During the discussion, a member of the team warns that one high-interest suspect will run and the talk turns to how to box him in.

As assignments are completed and the meeting wraps up, Malick reminds officers to turn in their paperwork and overtime slips.

As the men — there are no women in tonight’s operation — split up and go to their vehicles, Malick explains that the battle is ongoing. He’s been on the force for 26 years and 22 of them have been in narcotics. One night's detail won’t clean the streets from guns and crime, but it should help a little.

“We’re trying to make these areas safer than they are now,” he said.

A lot has changed over the years, Malick says. He cites the willingness of criminals to use guns with little or no compunction. The injuries and death they cause doesn’t seem to matter. People have become commodities.

“Everything is solved with violence,” he said. “Especially with these kids. … They’re getting younger and younger.”

Malick glides through the streets around Arlington in his marked Street Narcotics Uniform Detail cruiser, GPS not needed. He’s been along these streets hundreds of times. There’s a map in his head that Google would envy.

He comes to a stop on a perch blocks from the house that’s being watched by part of his team. He’s on the radio constantly, receiving information from his men and giving them details on what he sees.

Malick talks about the feds. The U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio has been working with law enforcement in the district to prosecute federal gun crimes, which often carry a stiffer sentence for the worst of the worst in Akron.

“They came to us and said, ‘We want to take these cases,’ ” Malick said.

Akron police were happy to oblige. State and local laws don’t keep the most violent criminals behind bars as long as federal convictions do. An added advantage is out-of-state incarceration.

 

6:50 p.m.

Malick is following a gray SUV onto the freeway. He calls in uniformed units. The SUV gets a couple of vehicles ahead, but Malick is waiting.

He slows down to clear a path and police cruisers speed past on his left, lights flashing, giving chase to the SUV. They’re soon out of sight, but Malick keeps in touch through the radio.

“It’s hit or miss,” Malick says. “You could be out here [all night] and get nothing.”

Much of the gun violence in Akron, if not most, revolves around the illicit drug industry in the city. If a big dealer is put behind bars, it can have an effect on the gun violence. The effort to remove guns from the most violent criminals goes hand-in-hand with fighting the narcotics trade.

Over the years, the big drug dealers have changed their tactics under constant pressure from law enforcement.

“It used to be that guys would sell out of houses,” Malick said. “[Now] they want to meet you somewhere.”

The introduction of fentanyl and carfentanil into the Akron area produced an explosion of overdose deaths three years ago. Akron police had encountered fentanyl before, but carfentanil, an extremely potent opioid used to tranquilize elephants and hippos, was new.

“I went up to the Cleveland Zoo because we didn’t know what carfentanil was,” Malick said. “I took back a sample.”

He asked a doctor what would happen if he was in an accident with the carfentanil on the way back.

“He said, ‘You can kiss your ass goodbye,’ ” Malick recalled.

 

7:11 p.m

Malick explains how police partner with churches, opening lines of communication into the neighborhood. He drives past Lovers Lane Market and Dollar General. “This is why we wanted to target specific people instead of an entire community.” He passes an old building with a faded “Bohemian Beer” sign painted on the side, then L.A. Motors and Swan Hardware.

“Right now, people don’t talk,” he says. “They don’t want to talk.”

 

7:45 p.m.

Malick turns on the Indians game between chatter with his team.

 

7:50 p.m.

There’s activity at the house being watched. Malick and his team cross-talk.

 

7:53 p.m.

Malick is on the expressway again.

“Let’s see how crazy it gets,” he says.

 

8:09 p.m.

A car pulled over by the team for leaving a location with documented drug and gang activity yields a gun. It belongs to the woman in the vehicle, and she has a concealed carry permit. The men in the back seat have no guns. Hers is teal and looks a bit like a toy. But it’s not.

“It’s frustrating,” Malick says. “She carries the gun. … Sometimes you make good investigative stops on people and you come up blind.”

Criminals increasingly use individuals without criminal records to carry out crimes or provide cover with concealed carry permits, Malick explains. They use vehicle rentals to provide another layer of protection.

 

8:24 p.m.

A call comes in on a potential drug or gun sale. Nothing major comes of it.

 

8:31 p.m.

Malick explains how the process of busting drug dealers and attacking gun violence has become more sophisticated over the years. The tactics continually evolve.

“They change, we change.”

He praises the department’s statistical prowess. He cites an example of the information police can access.

“We have data processing [that shows] the number of calls for an address,” Malick says. It can get as detailed as needed.

The department was able to produce a list of the city’s worst known offenders. About 40 cause much of the crime in the city. His teams target 10 or 12 — “the guys causing problems.”

 

About 9 p.m.

Malick returns to the importance of the federal gun-fighting grant the department is using for this evening’s action.

“It allows us to [utilize] more officers,” he says. More police on the streets where the crime is taking place, with a better chance to seize the guns that are being used.

Much of the next hour is spent communicating with the team. The action is winding down. Asked about the preferred firearm of Akron’s worst, Malick doesn’t hesitate. It’s a 40-caliber Glock. There are occasional AK-47s and AR-15s, but the Glock is the one the criminals like.

The end of the shift is coming. The team follows one last car that departs from the house being watched. Still no guns, but the night is not a loss. Some fentanyl is captured, and other drug busts are made.

Malick has been in narcotics for nearly two decades, but he wonders at the changes that have occurred. Worst, perhaps, is how potent the drugs have become. Summit County is the center of the methamphetamine trade in Ohio. Mexican cartels have a presence in the county.

But when asked which narcotic is worse, Malick names opioids. Dealers can receive blocks of fentanyl directly in the mail from China. When they cut it into their heroin, it creates huge profit margins and potent — sometimes deadly — product.

Sometimes, though, it cuts the customer base.

“They play Russian roulette every time they shoot up,” he said.

 

A little after 10 p.m.

Malick stands outside the building where it started. The night is not over for him. He’s got paperwork, perhaps hours of it. He rehashes some of the progress made in this detail, but is a little bit frustrated that no guns were seized. In the early morning, he has to get up and take a relative to college about two hours away.

He is tired, but he isn’t discouraged. Retirement is a few years away, but he likes what he’s doing to fight crime in Akron.

He said it hours ago when talking about why he’s remained in narcotics. It remains true and has for 22 years.

“I never got tired of it.”

 

Alan Ashworth can be reached at 330-224-7682 or emailed at aashworth@thebeaconjournal.com. He can be followed on Twitter at @newsalanbeaconjournal.