Shotspotter Blog

Let’s Money Ball Gun Violence Reduction

After reading MoneyBall a few years ago, I was forced to watch the movie the other night with my wife Rebecca (after all, it stars Brad Pitt!).  MoneyBall is the story of Billy Beane, who  challenged the conventional wisdom about what constitutes a player’s value and what it takes to win baseball games.  Beane faced extreme economic constraints as the-then beleaguered General Manager of the small baseball market (i.e. low budget) Oakland A's. 

Billy Beane's journey led him to look beyond the obvious (but potentially misleading) standard statistics of Batting Average and Runs Batted In (RBIs) as primary indicators of a player’s impact on team success. While it is very true that these statistics are usually aligned with player price, Bean’s team focused on the under-appreciated statistic: on-base-percentage, or OBP, that correlates to player effectiveness.  Many of these players were undervalued and therefore more affordable for the budget-constrained Oakland A's.  As it turns out in the movie (and the better book), the not well understood or used OBP was an even better indicator for team success, e.g. wins.  This overlooked and nuanced statistic, while not particularly sexy and easily observable to most baseball people, was literally a game-changer for the A’s.

After the movie, my wife commented first on what an amazing Academy Award winning performance Brad Pitt always gives (whatever) and then how the story parallels the work we do at ShotSpotter. 

“Oh really?”, I gamely said, “How so?” 

“Well you always talk about how frustrated you are with people's obsession with the obvious statistic – the number of arrests made based on a ShotSpotter alert.  Meanwhile, you are always talking about the number of times a ShotSpotter alert simply-but consistently-gets an officer to the scene of a shooting event.  That's kinda like OBP right?”. 

Out of the mouth of my BAE..…

My amazing wife has hit the nail on the head.  Like winning baseball games sustainable gun violence reduction does not come from high-profile arrests like your occasional home run.  It comes from unheralded but consistent prevention focused deterrence strategies and overall violence de-normalization.  In large part, the conventional approach to reducing violence has focused on arrests and closing cases as they are both easily observable and sexy (just like batting averages and RBIs) but may have little impact on actual violence prevention. 

The definition of normalized gun violence is when gunfire is rampant and persistent; residents don't call 911 and therefore receive no police response.  In this environment, it is difficult to reduce and prevent gun violence since there is little to no deterrent.  And worse, it is for all intents and purposes accepted as normal until there is a homicide which then is further rationalized as gang on gang violence, ignoring the thousands of innocent people, often children who live in constant fear of becoming collateral damage.

Our view is that when police show up quickly and precisely to every single gunfire event it sends a powerful signal to those otherwise tormented residents.   It says that these criminal events are being taken seriously and treated as an exceptional event which they in fact represent.  This leads to increased law enforcement legitimacy in the eyes of the community and increases collaboration and engagement.  Each time the police show up to a gunfire incident, whether or not they make an arrest, they increase their OBP.  These small but cumulatively powerful steps are what targeted deterrence and prevention look like and results in sustainable collaborative Police/Community Team efforts aimed at gun violence reduction.

So I guess that’s how I’m like Billy Beane.  But if they ever make a movie about ShotSpotter, I would prefer to be played by Denzel Washington.  I bet Rebecca would want to see that movie too.

May 08, 2017