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Driving Measurable Gun Violence Reductions

When reporter Mitch Ohnstad asked the famous bank robber Willie Sutton why he robbed banks, his answer was beautifully simple, “Because that is where the money is”.  Willie Sutton understood the concept of operating leverage – focusing effort and resources where there is the opportunity for big returns.  When we think about gaining measurable reductions in gun violence it too requires a focus on where there is operating leverage – the chronic shooter.

The Chronic Shooter

Perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of urban gun violence is that a limited number of trigger pullers are disproportionately responsible for the gun violence in our most vulnerable communities. Even in cities where there are a number of convicted felons, or known gang members who could possibly be in illegal “possession” of a gun, there are only a selected few of those who are shooters. And unfortunately when they shoot, they shoot a lot.  Academic research and practical real world experience of forensic shell casing analysis show that it is often the case that a single gun can show up at multiple shooting locations. Assuming that a specific gun has one owner suggests the serial shooter phenomenon is real.  Therefore, potentially being able to identify, investigate and interrupt, a very small number of serial shooters through direct interdiction, or through self-deterrence, can make a meaningful impact on reducing gun violence. 

Re-Defining Gun Violence

The problem with current gun crime investigative approaches is that it relies on investigating “traditional” measures of gun violence (homicides and non fatal shootings).  This measurement vastly understates the scale, intensity and frequency of shooting incidents.  We know from our work at ShotSpotter that gunfire incidents can be triggered at rates 100+X the number of homicides.  And sadly, residents of our most vulnerable communities are NOT likely to call 911 on average 80-90% of the time.  In our 2015 Gunfire Index we detected over 54,699 gunshot incidents in 46 cities where we are only partially deployed.  These shootings, despite not always hitting a person have the accumulated consequences of exposing young children to trauma and stress with serious negative sociological, psychological and medical outcomes.  More importantly however, for the purposes of bringing operating leverage to gun violence reduction (GVR), each one of these shooting events represents a breadcrumb that if properly investigated can lead us to, and help intercept, the chronic shooter.

The Path Forward

Programs like CeaseFire and the Interrupters, when applied in consistent fashion with committed resources, have proven to reduce gun violence.  Their focused deterrence efforts also relies on leverage by targeting the immediate gang or crew to enforce the behavior of the few shooters within their midst.   Although we see positive results from efforts like these, we can see even larger, measureable and sustainable results if we apply even more precise focus on chronic shooters. And you can only know chronic shooters by being aware of their shooting incidents, which requires using a more comprehensive data set of shooting incidents, which in turn relies on more than 9-1-1 calls for service and investigating homicides and non fatal shooting indents.

A gun crime intelligence approach when combined with the technologies of ShotSpotter (being alerted to and getting more forensic evidence of shootings) and the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network-NIBIN (identifying the crime gun) provides that comprehensive data set.  In addition, the proactive police process of responding to ALL shooting incidents, will significantly improve the ability to properly investigate, identify and ultimately intercept those very few shooters who are driving urban gun crime in our communities. The operating leverage of interdicting a chronic shooter BEFORE they are unfortunate enough to kill or hurt someone is immeasurable when considering gunfire reduction.

Community Engagement

The longer-term antidote to the problem of urban gun violence is to get communities outside to effectively enforce zero tolerance norms for gun violence. This can only happen when communities see their local police take the same initiative and in the process of showing up and caring a trust and collaboration is built between police and community. When the police-community relationship is healthy, the anti-snitching posture is removed and additional critical intel is established, which speeds up the cycle of identifying and intercepting shooters. It also creates a deterrence for those “would be serial shooters” who fear community posture more than the police. Taking this approach is how we break the bank on urban gun violence.


May 03, 2016
By: RALPH A. CLARK, PRESIDENT & CEO