Preventing Gun Violence: Understanding Law Enforcement Response and Improving Multi-disciplinary Partnerships for Peace
This Research for the Real World seminar explores common police practices for responding to gun violence and the extent to which they are contributing to reductions in violent incidents. The panel will also explore the role of multi-disciplinary partners such as the public health sector in reducing gun violence, and discuss promising practices for law enforcement partnerships to leverage complimentary violence reduction efforts.
Opening Remarks: Beth McGarry, Principal Deputy Deputy Assistant Attorney General, OJP
BETH MCGARRY: It's a pleasure to welcome so many colleagues from the Office of Justice Programs and other components at the Department of Justice, and, of course, our national and local partners. We are very pleased that you're here with us today.
And a special thanks to our distinguish panel, and for all the contributions you have made to expand our base of knowledge about what works to prevent and reduce violence.
Again, thank you, Howard, and for NIJ Nancy Rodriguez and the NIJ staff for the terrific work they do to support the research we need to keep our community safe from gun violence.
Gun crimes continue to exact a heavy toll, and we still do not know enough about how to prevent them. This —there's a great need for resources directed at research in this area, and I am proud that our National Institute of Justice has stepped up over the years to answer that call.
Under the leadership of Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason, the Office of Justice Programs has supported NIJ's program of violence research because one of the most important responsibilities of government is to keep citizens safe. Rigorous study and evaluation will help ensure that we're meeting that responsibility.
NIJ is moving us forward, helping to give law enforcement the tools they need to protect the communities from gun violence. . This technology is commonly used in larger departments. Our Bureau of Justice Statistics tells us that about 50 percent of large police departments deploy it, but we do not know a great deal about its effectiveness. This Urban Institute project will help close the knowledge gap.
Another ongoing effort is a project with the University of California, Davis. Researchers are evaluating California's Armed and Prohibited Person System, which seeks to recover firearms from prohibited persons. Prohibited persons are people who have purchased a gun legally in the past, but who, as a result of a conviction for a serious crime or some other high-risk event, have since become ineligible to possess a firearm. The NIJ research project is looking at whether this California system works and whether it reduces the risk of future firearm-related and violent criminal activity.
Beyond social science research, NIJ is leading the federal government's work to promote gun safety technology. NIJ conducted a review of these technologies and submitted a report to the President, outlining a research and development strategy. One of the report's recommendations was for law enforcement to develop baseline specifications for gun safety technology on service firearms. Just a few weeks ago, NIJ convened a panel of law enforcement executives and other stakeholders to review a draft of baseline specifications of gun safety technology on law enforcement service pistols. We believe that this is a big step in the right direction. We know from our conversations with law enforcement leaders that they want to move this technology forward. Illegal gun use remains one of law enforcement's gravest concerns. As the President has pointed out, gun safety technology exists and it's time to put it to use.
Reducing gun violence is also about using smart strategies. Community-based models grounded in evidence. We have seen through projects supported by the Office of Justice Programs that we stand a much better chance of keeping communities safe when we use targeted approaches and enlist the involvement of all stakeholders.
DOJ's Violence Reduction Network brings local law enforcement together with Department of Justice law enforcement and training and technical assistance resources to tackle serious problems in cities challenged by violence. By taking an all-hands approach and sharing data, evidence-based practices, and tactics across agencies, cities have been able to successfully address some of their most pressing problems. Detroit, for example, was able to reduce domestic violence homicides by 35 percent in one year.
And under our National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, local leaders, federal officials, and community stakeholders in a number of cities have worked with each other to target and reduce serious youth crime. Boston, for example, used violence interrupters to mediate volatile street encounters and reported that it was able to reduce homicides by 25 percent between 2014 and 2105, the city's largest decline in 16 years.
Now, there's a common element to these and other successful programs, and that is their reliance on data and evidence. There's a reason these programs work and it is more than a matter of luck. Reducing violence depends on a solid understanding of the problem that exists and of the approaches that are most likely to yield positive, sustainable results. That is why partnerships with researchers are so beneficial. I am grateful to our panelists for being here today to share with us their insights about what works, and I appreciate the NIJ team for opening up this conversation. Thank you all for your interest and for joining us today. And I look forward to the discussion.
Introduction: Howard Spivak, M.D., Deputy Director and Chief of Staff,
HOWARD SPIVAK: I'm going to introduce all four of the panelists up front and then they'll just come up in order. And then at the end, there'll be opportunities for questions.
The first speaker will be David Hemenway who, among other things, is an old friend of mine, but he's also a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, and Director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. He's one of the leading researchers in the country on injury prevention, including firearm injuries, and will be giving a general overview of the issue of firearms.
He'll be followed by Charles Wellford, who's a Professor Emeritus of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Maryland, College Park. He's also a past president of the American Society for Criminology, and a lifetime associate of the National Academy of Sciences. He'll be talking specifically about a project he's doing with the Prince George's Police Department.
The third speaker is Susan Sorenson, also another old friend who I've actually known since her days at UCLA School of Public Health. She's currently at the University of Pennsylvania and has been doing extensive work in particular around family and sexual violence, and she'll be talking about some of the work she's done with respect to firearms and domestic violence.
And then our last speaker is Hank Stawinski, who's the Chief of Police of the Prince George's County Police Department, and he's going to be wrapping things up and really talking about the research presentations and how they are relevant, or for that matter not relevant, to the work they do as in the police department. So, I'll hand things over to David.
David Hemenway, Ph.D., Director, Harvard Injury Control Research Center
DAVID HEMENWAY: There we go. All right. So, I was told to give a broad overview in 15 minutes, and so what I'm just going to do is talk about some of the things that we've been working on through the years that may or may not be of interest to you.
I'm going to talk first quickly about the U. S. exceptionalism in terms of guns, guns, guns. And then I just want to talk a little bit about the importance of doing surveys, and the importance of community collaboration.
You have to realize that when we compare ourselves to the other high-income countries, gun advocates like to compare us to Honduras, and El Salvador, and South Africa where we actually look good. But when you compare us to the other 24 industrialized democracies, we don't look so good in terms of guns and guns violence. Turns out when you compare us to these other 24 peer countries, we have similar crime rates in terms of non-gun crimes. Similar violence rates, similar bullying rates. We're a very average country in lots of ways, except about guns. We are very, very different from all these other countries, then, about guns.
What's the big difference? One is that we have so many guns, particularly handguns which, you know, most of these other countries don't have so many at all, and we have by far the most permissive gun laws of any one of these other 24 countries, talking about Japan, and England, and Italy, and Canada, and so forth. And not surprisingly, we have a lot more gun homicides to overall homicides.
This just gives you a feeling comparing the United States to the other peer countries. This is the five- to 14-year-olds where it's hard to blame the victim. This is K through eight. And what it shows is that a child in United States has a much higher likelihood of being murdered than a child in Sweden or a child in New Zealand or Australia, and it's not 20 percent higher or 50 percent or twice as high. It is 18 times higher, 18 times higher. If you took all the little kids, five to 14 years old, who were murdered with guns in all the developed countries and you laid their dead bodies, 90 percent of those children would be American children.
And, you know, this is —if you compare —if you look at a different —any age group. This is —this is for young adults, 15 to 24 years old, and you can see blacks in the United States, of course, are much higher rates, but it's not just blacks, it's whites. White teenagers in the United States have over 20 times the likelihood of being murdered with a gun than teenagers in other developed countries. I teach at a public health school, lots of international students, no one can understand how little we do. (Go back).
And it's also not just citizens who are dying, it's also police. Police in United States are so much more likely to be murdered than police in other developed countries. This is just comparing the United States with Germany. It's, like, 30 to 40 times more likely that a police officer in the United States will be —will be killed violently than police in other countries. We are looking —we did a study looking across the United States, why are police killed more often in some states than in other states? And the answer, it's not crime. What is it? It's guns. And this isn't the study, but it just gives you a feeling. This compares states with a lot of guns compared to states with few guns and we control for lots of things. But here, we're just trying to get the same number of law enforcement officers and the high-gun and the —and the low-gun states. The high-gun states have weak laws, the low-gun states have strong laws, and an officer in the high-gun states has three times the likelihood of being killed on the job violently than an officer in the low-gun states.
Big in the news now is police killings, and in United States our police kill civilians at much, much higher rates than people are killed in other developed countries. I think the big reason is guns. Unfortunately, there hasn't been a study to show that. Why isn't there a study? It'd be easy to do, except that we don't have nearly enough data. If you use the police reports, the supplemental homicide reports, you'd miss half the data, half the killings. If you use the public health reports, the death certificates, you'd miss 40 percent. And it's not that you just miss them, because what is a good data system is the National Violent Death Reporting System, but that's only been in 18 states, now finally in 32. But it's not, like, randomly the police [in or and] the vital statistics are missing. It's non-randomly. If you look at the police numbers for example, North Carolina doesn't look so bad. If you look at the vitals numbers, North Carolina doesn't look so bad. If you look at the actual numbers from the National Violent Death Reporting System, North Carolina police are killing a lot of civilians.
So, we have a big problem. Let me talk quickly about surveys. We do lots of surveys. We think surveys are really important to understand what's going on. We've done surveys with police in Massachusetts. Massachusetts is now one of the few states where police actually have discretion about who can carry a gun and most states now are shall-issue or must-issue states. If someone wants a permit to carry a gun concealed, if they can pass the next background check, the police chief has to give them a permit no matter what the police chief knows about that individual. That's not true in Massachusetts. We surveyed. There's 351 towns in Massachusetts. We surveyed them, the police chiefs. We asked, of course, "Do you want to keep discretion?" And, of course, they said, "Yes." But then the interesting thing is that we said, "How often do you use your discretion? How often do you deny a permit even though the individual can pass the background —the Brady background check?" And the answer was basically, "On the average police chief, about one or two times a year." And then we said, "Give an example of when you deny a permit even though this individual can pass a background check." And that's what's sort of interesting, and here’s some examples. Basically, these local police chiefs know some of these individuals, and why do they know them? Because they go to their house all the time for 911 calls, for alcohol and opiate abuse. And they don't want to give gun permits to these people, but most of police chiefs in most states have to give the permit. And I love the last quote, "Said he was going to go," I asked him why he wanted a gun permit, which most other police chiefs don't need to do because you either pass or you don't. And, "He said he's going to his gun and go to one of my officer's homes and shoot him in the head." You don't want to give a permit to that person, but in many states, that person can readily get a permit.
When —for 10 years, from 2000 to 2010, we were a Youth Violence Prevention Center from CDC and we work mostly with the City of Boston in lots of ways. And one of the things we tried to do is supplement their data system with lots of surveys. Surveys of high school students, surveys of kids not dropped —who dropped out of the high school, and surveys of adults. And we did surveys looking at fear, and witnessing, victimization, and perpetration of violence. We looked at sibling violence, peer violence, and dating violence. And I think the data was incredibly important. Just to give one example, this was 10 years ago. We asked the high school students, "Where are you afraid?" And, "Check off the things." And what do you think? Where were they —where were most kids afraid? At home, in school, to and from school, on your street, the neighborhood, or in public transit? And where do you think?
PARTICIPANT2: To and from school?
DAVID HEMENWAY: To and from school? What else?
DAVID HEMENWAY: Transportation? Hmm. And you don't know until you find it, and what was the answer? And the answer was the T. And, you know, if police know that, police can do something about this. There's lots of things that can be done to make the T’s– the transit much safer. And if we were able to continue being a youth violence center, we would have been able to say, "Here's what happened." You know, we're —you're putting more lights and putting more police. Did this really have an effect on the fear of students or not? But we don't know. They did something but we don't know if it really mattered or not.
Among the many things, you know, we saw and learned so many things. It's been over, you know, 35 peer-reviewed journal articles about all various things about violence that have come out. Here's this one thing I thought might interest you. We asked on our adult surveys in Boston, we asked, you know, "What did you think of the police?" And adults thought the police were doing a good job. You know, 17 out of 20 said, "Absolutely." Then we asked the high school students. These are not the bad high school students. These are students who are actually in school on the day of the survey. So not only are they not having dropped out of school, but they haven't been truant at that. And what did they say? This is just one of the questions we asked, "How much do you trust police in your neighborhood?" And not a lot. It's a very different world for young people than it is for adults. And police can act differently to make it a nicer world for adolescents.
Let me talk briefly about community collaboration because I think that's, of course, really important. And this is not about violence. But this is about bicycles. So, two years ago in Boston for the first time ever we had a —we had a big report about bicycle safety and it came from mostly police data. And why do —we were able to do this is because police worked with the academia. We —I found actually a doctoral student who helped… was the —was the —was the catalyst in getting everybody together to create this report. We found a lot of wonderful things, how to reduce bike accidents. One of the 10 important findings was there was one area in the city where six people had been seriously injured on a bike without crashing into a car. Why was that? Because, again, the railway system, their bikes —their bike wheels got caught in the T tracks. And it's a really easy fix, but the key thing was —is that what this report did is it changed the relationship between the bike advocates and the police, which was a very hostile one. But what we were able to do is we said, "Look, we're trying to write this report. We need everybody's help because the data aren't that good. It has to be cleaned. We’re all going to work together so the bike advocates and the police, and the academia all work together to create this report. And working together changed everything. So now there’s a really transformed relationship between the police and the bike advocates because of working together on its project.
In Boston, we have wonderful, wonderful agencies. One has been… for 12 years had been working on "Where Did The Gun Come From" but also now recently Operation Lipstick. What's Operation Lipstick? It's —when someone purchases a gun, it's overwhelmingly going to be a man. So, most straw purchasers are males. But when a woman buys a gun, she is disproportionally likely to be a straw purchaser. And too many women in Boston were buying and holding guns for their boyfriends. The women really didn't understand that this was a 15-year felony, a horrible, horrible thing. They've pictured it much more as sort of like lying on your employment application or something like that. And now all these women have gotten together and really are changing social norms, and it's not just by themselves, but the mayor is involved, and the DA's involved, and the police are really, really involved. And it really is making a difference, so that more and more women and also their boyfriends are understanding if your boyfriend asked you to buy a gun and hold it for him, you should—what should you do? Get rid of that boyfriend because that is not a nice person, and everyone is understanding that is not a nice person.
We’ve been doing a whole lot of work just more collaboration working with the gun community, and if Public Health can work with the gun community, anybody can work with anybody. We’ve been working on suicide prevention. The evidence is overwhelming that a gun in the home increases the risk for suicide. And who are —and you can really reduce suicide in the United States and a lot of, you know, homicides or homicide-suicides, all of them, half of them are shootings or more, or homicide-suicides. You can change suicide in United States without changing any laws, without changing anyone's mental health. And the big thing is get the gun out of the house when a person is going through a bad period. And we've been working with gun shops who are great, trying to figure out how can gun shops help reduce suicide. We've been working with gun trainers, figuring out what can gun trainers do to reduce suicide.
And it's very, very exciting, and I have one minute left and I just want to say I always promised my publisher wherever I go, appropriate or not, that I would purchase this book. It's called While We Were Sleeping: Success Stories in Injury and Violence Prevention. There are 64 documented successes about how the world's been made safer by reducing injuries and violence, 36 heroes in the book whom you've never heard of, who have devoted their lives to prevention, to preventing things. It's only $20 on amazon.com. But the key thing is what I would like to see is a book about police and police officers who have made a difference, not in terms of arresting people, but in preventing crime, who are the real heroes, I think. Thank you.
Charles Wellford, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, University of Maryland, College Park
CHARLES WELLFORD: So, my name is Charles Wellford, as Howard indicated. Apparently I am not one of his friends, but I'm glad to know him. But I am old, and so I'm Nancy's friend. So that makes up for it for sure.
I'm reporting —the presentation today is based on a project funded by NIJ to the International Association of Chiefs of Police and this is the front page from a paper that's under review, and I wanted to highlight the three graduate students, Megan Collins, Tom Scott, and Susan Parker who have just been exceptional in working on this project with me. I'm going to pull things out of that today, but also add some of my own thoughts so they're not responsible for any slide after this one. Lots of people involved in this project. I won't name all of them, you see them here, but I do want to emphasize the role the IACP has played. They are the grantee for this project. They've been instrumental in helping us gain access to agencies and to state police agencies, and have managed this entire process. And then, of course, the two police departments, New Orleans and Prince George's County police departments who showed, I think, great courage in agreeing to be participants in this project, and, of course, NIJ for funding us.
So as we began this project, we had a particular approach to under —what we thought was our current understanding of how guns get to criminals, how gun markets operate. But as the National Research Council's report indicated in 2005, what we know is more conceptual than empirical. We know that guns are sold through —mostly through legal dealers. They go to people who, most of them don't use them in a crime, but seven, eight, nine, 10, 12 years later, that gun shows up with the police department recovering it during the —as —during a or after a commission of a crime.
The empirical research we have are mostly from trace studies. Traces are where guns that are recovered by police are submitted to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosions, and from now own I'll call them ATF. And they run a national tracing center out in West Virginia that reports back to the police department where that gun originated, who purchased it, when, where, those kinds of things.
So we have studies that have looked at trace results, but these have tended to be in individual communities, not many comparative studies. And they're often in high-regulation states, Massachusetts, Illinois, California, because that's where many of the best researchers in the gun violence, gun research area operate.
And then, there have been inmate studies. Inmate studies are typically surveys or interviews that are done with inmates. You may be familiar with Jim Wright's and Peter Rossi's early work in 1984 on Armed and Dangerous —a major —a national survey of inmates. And then there's the BJS surveys of prisoners asking them where they get their guns. And then, individuals have done surveys throughout the year.
What we find though is that these two types —approaches to studying gun markets don't occur in the same study. They're usually done differently. And they're done at different times with different samples and that creates some difficulty in trying to get at the two ends of the gun market continuum, the end of first sale and the end of criminals who have used them and guns. So, this gap in between first legal sale and use is relatively unknown from an empirical scientific perspective.
So, what we're —what we've done in this study which is now coming to an end, we're due to finish up by the end of October —or maybe it's the first of October, but yeah, it's the first, she tells me. The first of October is to select three jurisdictions, two were funded by NIJ to us — Chicago came in through the cooperation of Phil Cook and the crime lab at the University of Chicago — in which we get trace data, we do inmate surveys and we try to interview individuals who were first legal purchasers. This shows you the components, the tracing, what we call tracking where we're interviewing individuals who purchased the gun and prison interviews in these three jurisdictions. And if you can make out the letter grades, this is the center for Law Center for Prevention of Gun Violence's grade for these jurisdictions and their regulations. So, we tried to introduce some notion of variation in regulation with Prince George's being a very high-regulation jurisdiction, Louisiana and New Orleans not so much, and Chicago reasonably good. We don't claim anywhere in our work that we're able to precisely estimate the effect of these regulations, but we do note where there are differences in some of these gun patterns that we've looked at.
So, in each of these areas in Prince George's we collect the trace guns, you see the number for that two-year time period. We do interviews with inmates who are serving time for committing a crime with a gun in that jurisdiction through the same two-year period. But we can't link them to the particular trace for lots of reasons. And then, on terms of tracking, we've identified about 200 individuals. We haven't finished collecting this, but I'll report to you some preliminary stuff on 101 —181 individuals who were the first legal purchaser and what they say happened to the gun.
Here's what —at the end, I will tell you are general conclusions about this research. First, gun recoveries and trace successes vary across jurisdictions and in some locations by crime. Second, gun regulations do matter because they seem to be associated with certain characteristics of the market. The proportion of guns purchased in-state and the time to recovery or what sometime is called “time to crime.” But we did not find that the variations in regulation were associated with the likelihood of the purchaser and possessor being the same person, or with the likelihood of the gun being bought by a straw purchaser.
First legal owners tell us that guns that are end up being used in violent crime are mostly stolen from them, or they have sold it to the person who became the offender, or they sold it to someone else. And imprisoned gun offenders cited stealing or buying a gun "off the street" as the most likely way to obtain a firearm that's used in crime.
I'll tell you without spending half an hour talking about methodology. I have pretty good confidence and conclusions one and two, and in four, three, for reasons is that I may be able to go into if we have time. We know we have missed things in the interviews of first legal owners mainly because we couldn't find them, or they're dead, or they were police officers, or something else.
So, let me briefly give you the —some nuggets of the actual findings that support these ideas. So, on gun recoveries, we found that across the jurisdictions, less than 20 percent of violent gun crimes resulted in a recovery of a firearm. Mostly that's because of the low clearance rate for many violent crimes. And so, if the —if the crime isn't cleared, there's a low probability of a gun being recovered. So, firearms are more likely be recovered after homicides and unlikely following armed robberies. In New Orleans, we were actually able to compare the crimes where guns were recovered and where they were not. And there were substantial differences in the types of crimes, the types of victims, the types of offenders and where they occurred within the city. So, the trace results are very important for law enforcement, but they must be treated with the recognition that they're incomplete and that incompleteness can give a distorted or biased picture of what the gun crime situation looks like in any particular jurisdiction.
There are unsuccessful traces. We found that in most jurisdictions, you see bullet two, there's some variation, but about two-thirds to 75 percent of guns that are submitting — submitted for tracing — are successfully traced. The most common reasons for unsuccessful traces differed only slightly across jurisdictions and primarily reflect how we've decided to capture and trace guns. Here are some of those. It's kind of small, but they're mainly administrative reasons. The dealer's out of business, there was a problem with the submission, obliteration of serial numbers is certainly important, but other reasons for failure tend to be more important.
I said there —here's a way in which gun regulations are associated. You see the top line, which is New Orleans. The higher percentage of in-state purchases of guns that are recovered in crimes, but the other two jurisdictions, the regulations are seemed to result or associated with lower percentage of in-state purchases, more outstate. That certainly makes sense. But, of course, this is obviated by the fact that these states maybe near other states where regulations are not as strong. And so, in Maryland, a lot of guns purchased in Virginia, et cetera.
Mean time to recovery. You see in a low-regulation jurisdiction, the mean time to recovery is about 8.5 years, whereas for the other two jurisdictions it's considerably longer. That means there's more cost involved in these gun situations. However, it doesn't make a difference in purchaser, possessor. In Prince George's County, 26 percent of the first original purchaser, legal purchaser were people who use the gun and possess the gun in a crime, 15 percent in Chicago, 19 percent in New Orleans. And I think that speaks somewhat to David's point about the efforts in Massachusetts to address that purchase by people who pass the background check.
Here's the specific data on movement from first legal sale. This is what the 181 people report to us what happened to the gun. Forty-one percent said it was stolen, nine percent sold or traded to a gun store, sold or traded at a gun show, two percent sold to the offender. You see the numbers. We ask people if they said it was stolen, whether they had reported to the police. Most said they did not, so that stolen number could be a socially acceptable way of saying something else. But that is what is reported.
Imprisoned gun offenders, the middle bar is a combination of the things that are off the street. They either bought it, they stole it, or they traded for it, but the gun came off the street. As one of our interviewers said, "I don't know why you're asking me about guns. There aren't any gun manufacturing plants in my neighborhood. There aren't even any gun stores. You want to know about guns, go talk to the white people that bring them in to our community and sell them." That's the predominant thought in many of our surveys and interviews. So, that's the… that's where the guns are coming from. Those millions of guns that David was talking that are out there are ending up in hands of people who commit crimes through theft, through purchasing on the street from drug dealers, and others, and from trading and borrowing.
So, now, to the implications for law enforcement. I divide these into two categories. And the first two really speak to things that are beyond the total control of law enforcement.
If guns are being stolen, if guns are being purchased out on the street, then we need enforceable tools to address transfers from legal owners into the unregulated market. Now, some states including Maryland, Massachusetts have required that for every transfer —if I buy a gun and transfer it to Howard, I have to report that or I have to do it through an FFL — that is, some mechanism. But as David Braga and David —Anthony Braga and David Hureau recently showed in a paper in Preventive Medicine, in Massachusetts, only about 30 percent of the guns that end up at crime that were transferred some way into the underground market were reported in the way they should be. And part of that’s an enforcement issue. And so, I emphasized the enforceable tools to give us a picture of what these transfers are, where they're going, and who should have these guns.
And I think also outside of local law enforcement's control, there's improvements in trace data. I think if you go out to the National Tracing Center sometime and see the remarkable job that these people are doing in giving trace results back to agencies. But they are significantly hampered by the way in which we've decided to do systems of information about gun purchases. And that's another whole-hour conversation, but I think it's an important one that we need to keep in mind.
In the Police Chief in May of this year, Megan Collins, one of the students working on this paper, and Carlos Acosta from —I spelled his name wrong, I'm sorry, Acosta from the Prince George's County Police Department. We did a paper entitled, "What police can do to prevent gun violence." And to summarize it in the minute I have left, basically, we said police in the last 15 years have learned how to address crime by collecting better data, analyzing those data, and understanding what drives the crime situation, and then addressing those underlying drivers. That's the same strategy that needs to be applied to gun markets and guns. You see that happening more and more in police by focusing on what might be called trigger shooters or high-risk individuals. They're at high risk for committing gun crimes or being victims of gun crime. But our suggestion in that article and I'm just repeating it today is that same approach and focus should be addressing gun markets and how to interrupt them. Once that's done, if you use that approach, these departments will be using the kinds of strategies I've described in our research, surveys, tracing data, interviewing first legal purchasers, or getting access to those databases that states should have that describe secondary transfers and using that to better understand. I can't tell you how many police departments I've been to over the last few years in which their use of trace data is their primary source of understanding their gun markets and who use it primarily on an individual case basis —use it to try to solve a case, then to use it for a strategic understanding of what their gun market situation might look.
Once you've taken those two steps, then as was said earlier in the introduction as David mentioned, there are programs of proven successfulness in crimesolutions.gov, in other sources of information about what works that police can draw upon. We talked about them in that article. I don't have time here to repeat it, but I think police can use the strategies, the approach that has worked so well to reduce crime. I don't think anybody can —we can argue about how much it's contributed, and we can discuss whether the strategies used have reduced confidence in the police in certain segments of the community, but we can't deny the fact that this approach of data-driven, evidence-driven policing has made a difference. I think we can do the same thing in the area of gun markets and gun crimes. Thank you.
Susan Sorenson, Ph.D., Professor, University of Pennsylvania
SUSAN B. SORENSON: Hello. I'm Susan Sorenson, and I want to thank you for asking me to join you today. I am pleased to be among my esteemed colleagues and to have the opportunity to tell you just a bit about my work.
You saw the title. You probably thought I was going to talk about homicide. But I'm not. I'd be happy to address homicide or policies that are related to the topic of gun use against women in the Q and A period. But now, I want to address something else.
This panel is titled "Research for the Real World." And when it comes to guns, the real world for women is not about death, or even injury. It's about life, a certain kind of life. The Criminal Justice System advocates, researchers, and policy makers need to expand the current focus on death to include life. And as a public health researcher, I know that survival is the essential basis of health. But it's not enough. Quality of life matters as well. And through collaborations, we can make a difference.
Philadelphia, by the way, is a great way to collaborate and a great place to collaborate. So, the work that I'm going to tell you about today comes from a collaboration with the Police Department of Philadelphia. This was work that was begun under Commissioner Charles Ramsey and Deputy Commissioner's Nola Joyce and Pat Fox and was completed under our current commissioner, Richard Ross.
And we worked with the four largest domestic violence agencies in Philadelphia. We are known locally as the DV-4 —the District Attorney's Office, Women's Law Project, the center I direct —the —the Ortner Center on Family Violence at the University of Pennsylvania. This was work that was originally funded by the John & Laura Arnold Foundation. But the work I'm going to be talking about today comes from the New Venture Fund.
So, I'm going to back up just a bit to say that there was some concern that the form that officers use when responding to the scene of intimate partner violence was not necessarily capturing all the information that it might. And there was some concern in the department – “oh, we don't want to change the form.” We all know being in the bureaucracy what it's like to change a form, it’s a major event. And so, I thought, "Well, let me see if it's even a feasible thing." And so, I did ride along with the police. I met with residents of the emergency shelter for battered women, trying to develop a 10-item checklist. We piloted with officers in one district and after it seemed like, "Well, maybe this could work," I handed it off to the department. Eventually, the form was —with input from a lot of people, was developed. It's a two-page form, front and back in, like, four-point font. There's lots and lots of information on those two pages. And the —there's a department directive that requires responding officers to complete the form when a system —or when a victim is on the scene of intimate partner violence. So, that was rolled out, city wide, it's been in place for a few years now.
And time is short today, so I will focus just on the top-line findings from that work. Okay. So, in the year 2013 in Philadelphia, there are over 100,000 calls for assistance for domestic violence. As is common, some were bad addresses, with others, people were gone by the time the officers arrived. But once all of those are accounted for and all the other forms of domestic violence are removed, we ended up with 35,413 incidents of intimate partner violence. And in a great majority of those incidents, as you can see, there was no weapon at all or the weapon was a body part, hands, fist, and feet. Okay. About five percent of the incidents involved an external weapon. So, two-thirds of these external weapons were things like, knives, bats, bricks, a wide range of other objects that were used as weapons. And a third of these external weapons — only 1.6 percent were guns. This is a small percentage, but it's a big number and I'll return to that point at the end.
I'm focusing on the weapon here, but it's worth noting that when a gun was used, 85 percent of the time it was used against a woman. The gender split was not this unbalanced for the other two types when there was no weapon used or when there was another external weapon used.
And how was the gun used? Two-thirds of the time, it was used to threaten the person. Fifteen percent of the time, the person was shot or pistol-whipped. And 18 percent of the time, there was another kind of type. Either it was stolen during an intimate partner violence incident, it t was simply there, something like that. This is a key point. The gun is a device to deliver intimidation which is a central aspect of the control and coercion that's a hallmark of chronic abuse.
A common question is, why does she stay? Well, she might be afraid of getting shot if she tries to leave. Being threatened with a gun crushes motivation to end the relationship or to even seek greater independence.
So, I told you about gun use. And next, I'm going to show you some frequency data based on the three weapon categories. The percentages show what you might be likely to see if the only thing you knew about the incident was the weapon. We did adjusted odds ratios and such in the paper that's forthcoming and you can check that for that. But right now, we're looking at the only thing we know is the use of what kind of weapon. And the three slides address the scene, the offender, and the victim. Okay.
As we can see, on this —on the scene, there —the blue bar is there's no external weapon. The red bar is a gun. And then, the gray bar is that another external weapon is used. And we can see here that the furniture being in disarray, the property damage, being blood at the scene — in each case, lowest was when there was not an external weapon used and highest when there was another external weapon used. So, these are the things the officer saw when he or she arrived at the scene.
One thing that was typically not at the scene though, however, was the offender. And as we can see in both cases of no weapon, or no external weapon, or other external weapon, about half the time the off —the offender had fled by the time the officers had arrived. However, when a gun was used, over 70 percent of the time, the offender had fled by the time the officers had arrived.
So, what did the offender do? Again, blue bar being no external weapon, red bar being gun, and the gray bar being another external weapon. You can see that in each case, almost each case at least, there was more likely to be any one of these types of behavior —shoving, grabbing, pulling hair, slapping, punching, kicking, biting. If —and also strangling —if it was another kind of external weapon, not a gun. What was different though is they are much more likely to threaten if they were using a gun. And also, it was more likely to involve a violation of a protection from abuse order or a restraining order. Okay.
So, what happened in terms of the victim? What did the officer see there? As you can see, again, that same pattern, lowest where there’s no external weapon, then gun, and then highest among other external non-gun weapon. With the two exceptions on the right side, if a gun was used, the person was much more likely to be frightened, substantially more likely to be frightened, and to be shaking.
So, injuries —the bars that are there on the third and fourth from the right —are a key determinant of how the criminal justice system will proceed. But as you can see, those are —who are threatened with a gun are less likely to have injuries. What they are more likely is to be frightened. So, a woman may choose to defend herself if he comes at her with his fist, or a bat, or a knife, but not have that sort of courage if he comes at her with a gun. And he has to expend some energy, okay, to work a bit if you will, to hit her or to strangle her into unconsciousness. But if he's been drinking, he's angry, and all it takes is the pull of a trigger, she's scared, and she's wise to back down.
So, if you want to look at these and additional findings, such as the officer's behavior at the scene, I'll refer you to a paper that is going to be posted online in early September, just a couple of weeks from now. It will be available for free at the journal's website, The Journal of Women's Health.
So, recommendations that have come from out of these data, there could be multiple recommendations and we'll focus on three here.
The first is that we must address the role of guns in women's lives as well as their deaths. Okay. You only have to threaten with a gun once. It creates a context of fear and intimidation, an environment that is not good for the woman or for the children in the home. Even a single hostile display of a gun can create realistic fear about the risk to herself and her children that might be associated with leaving. We know from prior research that risk of homicide is highest when the woman is ending the relationship and a gun makes that fear all the more palpable.
Next, it's advisable to document officer compliance with the gun laws. A number of states have laws in place that authorize and in some cases, require officers to remove a gun at the scene of intimate partner violence under certain circumstances. And these vary by state to state. Having information about this on a form that the officer needs to complete—one, serves as a reminder to the officer. And second, it's a way for departments to clearly document their compliance with the law. So, it's a really systematic and complete way to record the information.
And third, we have some solid policies in place to address intimate partner violence and guns. But to more fully address gun threats and intimidation, we need to revisit our policies. For example, what might be the implications for intimate partner violence of the emerging technologies such as smart guns? We need to consider statutes and law enforcement policies that don't rely primarily on injuries.
And in closing, I'll return to an earlier point and leave you with the sense of the scope of the problem. It comes from data gathered in 1995 and '96. It's the only national estimate of the prevalence of gun use against an intimate partner, a number that was produced by a research that was funded by NIJ and CDC, a very useful collaboration. And the researchers found that 3.5 percent of U. S. women have ever had an intimate partner threaten them with a gun. And I'm not talking about using a gun in any way, but just threatening them with a gun. Gun threats were more common than threats with a knife. Okay. So, that percentage, that 3.5 percent, if that holds true now, 20 years later, it's as if every adult woman living in San Diego, Philadelphia, Orlando, Chicago —the cities hosting the next four International Association of Chiefs of Police conferences. And as if every adult woman living in Dallas, Phoenix, San Jose, and the District of Columbia have had an intimate partner threaten them with a gun. As you leave today, look at the face of each woman you meet. Think about who they represent. Think about their lives. We can do better by them. It's one piece of the puzzle. Thank you.
Hank Stawinski, Chief, Prince George's County Police Department
HANK STAWINSKI: Good morning.
PARTICIPANT4: Good morning.
HANK STAWINSKI: My name is Hank Stawinski, and I have the privilege of being the 17th chief of police of the Prince George's County Police Department. I want to thank the director for having me, Howard, for introducing me, because I stand before you today as an unapologetic advocate of research and police science. I think, for reasons that I'll detail briefly, that's really where the future lies.
When I'm asked about policing and research, my friend Charles and I, I'm reminded of Will Rogers, its applicability to the real world is —was the question. Will Rogers said, "It's okay to be on the right track but if you just sit there, sooner or later, you're going to get run over." And that's where the application of research to the real world is the vital component in contemplating what we choose to take interest in from a research perspective.
So, a little bit of history about my department and my journey. Six years ago, under Chief Magaw, we elected to restructure the department to be a strategy-based, prevention-oriented organization capable of producing strategic policies and plans that would achieve structural reductions in crime. Because what we knew looking at this was that crime was overrepresented when we looked at indicators in Prince George's County. Economic, educational attainment, employment, infrastructure —there were just too much of it.
One of the first things that we did was to hire, and his name was mentioned this morning, Carlos Acosta, our inspector general, who came from DOJ to help us on this journey. One of the first things we did was go to the University of Maryland, which had not happened before, and speak to an internationally recognized thinker around these issues. You see, what we're trying to do is think comprehensively.
And I'm going to take a moment's liberty and just talk about that word, because comprehensively, and a lot of times in law enforcement is concluded to mean about crime and the hard facts of crime. It was mentioned today about some of the results of the study in Boston and about mistrust in the community, particularly around young people. Those soft issues of relationships are equal in value to this department and equal in terms of efforting to our research. I call it the hard work of small things, things that you don't hear about in the news, things that you won't hear about in the national press, but conversations that happen in church basements, and in schools, and on the side of the road are as valuable as the work that these individuals do. And when you translate that across an entire department, it accounts for credibility. Credibility is what allows us to take some of these strategies forward. And when people understand —and again, you can't trust people you don't know —when people understand the research basis for some of these strategies and why we're doing what we're doing, and you explain that as you launch those strategies, then you eliminate misunderstanding and you bring in more collaborative efforts and you can be more successful.
You heard a lot from eminent thinkers in public health and I fully acknowledge that that wasn't always the case in Prince George's County. We weren't looking at it as a public health issue, but what we said six years ago was, “Let's take this from the perspective of a proven science: epidemiology. Let's look at all of the causative factors of crime as opposed to what we traditionally have been very good at, which is dealing with offenders.” And out of that, we concluded that if we're going to take an epidemiological view on things, what we know from that science is that there are structural things that you can do to impact the outbreak of disease. And what I'll suggest that we are in the midst of doing in Prince George's County, I'm hoping as part of my advocacy to do on a broader basis is understand that crime isn't a giant mystery. That there are underlying structures that these individuals and others out there right now are helping us to identify that can lead to structural methodologies that we can implement and get real results from. It's not entirely art, and I will say that sometimes it will not work. But as Thomas Edison once remarked, "I didn't fail in inventing the light bulb 10,000 times, I learned 10,000 ways not to make the incandescent light bulb." And we learn as much from those failures as we do from some of our successes. It's important to take that risk and to learn, at the very least, you now know what you didn't know before. And these can be tremendously beneficial frameworks, not only for formulating effective strategy but for accounting to the public why certain strategies have not produced the results that we would have liked to have seen.
And going back to thinking comprehensively, here, I've got to talk about Daniel Board and Bill McMullen, my good friends at the ATF. Ross is here with us today. We have 11 investigators assigned to a task force with ATF full time. Their job is to understand how guns are coming into Prince George's County, because at the end of that process, we believe that behind the static of violent crime —no, let me take a step back. For a long time in Prince George's County, the gun was viewed as freight to the crime. It was an armed robbery with a gun. It was drug dealing with a gun. It was a footnote. It was another charge that was added to the principal. What we've done is changed that. The gun now becomes the focus. It's no longer freight. And we want to understand where those guns are coming from, because at the end of the day, there aren't 10,000 independent actors selling these guns, there are a handful of actors who for a long time have bore no scrutiny whatsoever. They've provided the weapons to people who have gone and committed the robberies or dealt the drugs, but no one's come knocking on their door. And so why we're committed to this with the ATF, and why we'll continue to be committed to it, is that we believe that as we learn who these individuals are who are providing the majority of weapons and we start knocking on their doors, we're going to impact, what, their behavior. Because right now, it doesn't matter to them who they sell a weapon to. They have to do no mental calculus about whether or not it's likely this person will use a weapon. We intend to shift that calculus because if they learn that selling the weapon to the person who's more inclined to use it will lead to a knock on their door and accountability on their part, then, well, I won't say that at this point we hope to completely eliminate illegal firearms in Prince George's County. Certainly, the people who are sophisticated enough to be trading in them will have to change their behavior and from that change, we'll see reductions in the number of firearms in the hands of people who are likely to use them and the number of instances.
And this comes back to something I talk about quite a bit in my department, which is the Ted Williams principle. We operate our department in real time based on data. It looks like that every day and my entire command staff knows exactly what all of this means. But it's not perfection that we're looking for. It's not the notion that data's going to get us to the right choice at every point, but Ted Williams successfully hit four out of every 10 pitches that were thrown at him and he's our most accomplished hitter in baseball, and that's the same principle in policing. You don't have to get it right 100 percent of the time, but if you get it right four out of 10 times, you're a superstar.
So from the epidemiology perspective, if we conclude that that will lead us to a better understanding of the dynamics of gun violence, we must also conclude as part of that conversation that that will lead to structures that can be effective and can be applied in different places and be effective in different places and we can advance, again where I started: the science of policing.
This leads to where I'll conclude and open it up to conversation, the county executive's signature Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative, because at the end of all of this, the hard issues of crime and the soft issues of relationships, we also have to look critically at that environment. We also have to marshal our resources as government and not just deal with any of these issues through the lens of policing. We tried that for a long time. We weren't successful. But when we were able to marshal all of the components of county government around those issues of environment, we made tremendous progress quickly. And coming back full circle to the soft issues, what we also did was earn credibility in the community that allows us to go and to police effectively with respect for their views on how policing should be done, but also to introduce new ideas and to experiment with better approaches.
And the question is, "Does it work?" And here's where I'll conclude my portion. When we started this work almost six years ago, we had better than 38,000 instances of crime in Prince George's County, and to stand here today, last year we had less than 19,000. And right now, we've created a 13 percent reduction year-to-date for 2016. We've reduced violent crime this year another six percent. And for the first 10 years of the 2000s where we had more than 120 homicides on average, we now have about 62 on average for the last three years. So does police science work? Does research have value? That was what I was asked to address at the conclusion of their remarks, and I will say to you in conclusion that research is the underpinning of every decision that I make as the chief and every decision that our commanders make, fiscally, strategically, and in terms of the deployment of resources to good effect. So, I appreciate the work that's been done. I appreciate my good friend, Charles. And with that, I’ll conclude. Thank you.
Question and Answer Session
HOWARD SPIVAK: At this point, we'll open things up for questions, but I just want to make one brief announcement, and that is that joining us today in the audience are LEADS scholars who are mid-career police practitioners who are particularly interested in bringing evidence and integrating research into police departments. So, I'm not going to introduce them all by name but we are building a community of police scholars to help us with this work. And on that note, I’d like to open things up for questions. I want to remind people to come up to the mic, introduce themselves and where they're from.
Well, then I'm going to start with a question. And I'd like to start with Susan on this, although I'd like everyone to comment on this. I didn't recognize this when I introduced her, but Susan was actually part of a panel with the Institute of Medicine that several years ago put together a report on the state of research in —with respect to firearm violence and injuries, and the research gaps. And I'd like to ask all of the panelists, but starting with Susan, what they believe are the priority areas where we really begin to —need to begin to focus our research investments.
SUSAN SORENSON: Thank you, Howard, for mentioning that. There's so many different places that we need work. I think the markets is certainly one.
But I also think we need to look broadly at, as I'm trying to do, the non-fatal use of guns. The homicide rates have dropped precipitously in the United States, and nobody's able to really completely understand why that is. Homicide by intimate partners has dropped substantially since started being recorded systematically in 1976 through the Department of Justice. And if we try to explain that, there a lot of broad factors that are going on and some of them might have to do with guns; maybe not, because gun sales have skyrocketed at the same time. So, I think there are a lot of questions out there. But I think we need to really expand our focus beyond homicide and to these non-fatal uses. Thanks.
CHARLES WELLFORD: So, the IOM report and the National Research Council report laid out recommendations for research. And so here a couple of areas I think both of them agreed on and still are issues.
One is some of the reasons research, other than funding which is a problem and we need more of that of course and every agency could do that. But there is the —these huge data problems that we have in this area that are not unique to crime and to other crimes, but with regards to guns, it is just difficult to access those datasets that are there. And when you do, they are of —they have things that are missing, gaps in them that we need. So, data and focusing on data I think is important.
Second, police departments around the country that —and I get a chance through my work at IAC —with IACP, I'm not employed there of course, and with PERF, a chance to see some of this up close, are experimenting with ways to address gun crime, and we don't know much about how effective they are. And I think a program of research that would first document what police are doing and then try to —just like Prince George's County is doing with task forces. We don't have much research if any on gun fusion centers and how well they're working and what are best models. So, that —that's a second area.
And then third, I think the markets that we've just touched on in this project, that that kind of work needs to continue, and I would hope NIJ and other agencies might see some value in enhancing work in this field.
DAVID HEMENWAY: So, I've been in academia a long time and done lots of different areas, and I've just never seen an area such as gun violence where data are purposely not collected. The CDC for example refuses to put a gun question on their Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System surveys. Two hundred and fifty thousand people a year are questioned about all sorts of things about health, and that’s the one place where we could get good data on the percent of households with guns by state, for example.
There's also lots of areas where we collect data where researches are unable to get the data. So, for example, the, you know, concealed carry permits from the state information. It's really hard for researchers to get data from ATF. There's a whole lot of areas where it'd be great to do research.
And then finally, I've never seen an area where there's so little money for research. The CDC is afraid to say the word “guns.” The ATF is, you know, trying to do something but it's tiny, tiny money. The NIH has done incredibly little. Foundations are afraid to do anything because they don't want the hassle. Even people —like my goal in life is to put my questions on other people’s surveys and I can put all sorts of injury questions on people’s surveys, but if I try to put a gun question, people, researchers in other areas are afraid to put a gun question on because of the hassle they may receive. So, it —it's just, you know… one of the big reasons —one of the big problems is that if we're going to have lots of guns, we need a harm-reduction approach, and we know so incredibly little about how to reduce harm. And you can just go through a litany of, you know, what we don't know. There's virtually no studies on open carry. There's virtually no studies on gun theft. There's virtually no studies on gun training. There's virtually no studies, you name it. You pick the topic and I talk to reporters all the time, and I can tell them broad things, and then when they start digging, I say, "Well, there's sort of one study, it was done 10 years go, which isn't quite on topic but it's sort of a little bit, you know, a little —and that's it." And I've —no place else in academia do I believe is like this.
HANK STAWINSKI: I'll be very brief. Those are important perspectives. My perspective is always coming back to prevention. And all of the things that we just spoke about are sort of downstream indicators once the gun is in hand. Dr. Joe Wright over at Howard University Hospital is our health officer in Prince George's County, one of the things that we're interested in is the impacts of chronic stress on youth. And that comes back around to how we can use this TNI initiative to alleviate that chronic stress in some of these environments, and the nexus between that chronic stress and the acting out behavior is that lead them to the place where they're looking for the gun. Because I think if we have better understood those dynamics, those environmental dynamics in communities, then we might be able to find that interrupter that prevents that progressing to the place where the gun, the robbery, the shooting, those kind of things become attractive options.
NANCY RODRIGUEZ: I’m Nancy Rodriguez, Director of NIJ. So, my question actually is related to that, Chief. And David alluded to the, and presented obviously, data on the very divergent perspectives among subpopulations regarding use of the police, and especially around trust. So, how do we begin or how is this particular climate really complicating and making it more difficult for us to even have citizens and the public feel that they can convey to agents of the system, elements around firearms, and their use?
I —and are there strategies —I guess my second point would be, are there strategies that you're aware of in various local jurisdictions that are maybe trying to, kind of, counter and maybe capitalize on certain subpopulations that may be more vulnerable whether it be children, whether it be women?
HANK STAWINSKI: I was part of a forum yesterday to respond your questions addressing some of those concerns, if —and the example that I've been using publicly recently is if I were to give you $333, you'd have a significant sum of money and you could feed yourself, you could feed someone else, you could clothe yourself, you could get yourself some shelter. If I gave you a dollar, there's not a lot you can do. There's 333 million people in America and there's less than a million police officers. And overwhelmingly, those police officers do good work day in and day out. My interactions with our community are overwhelmingly positive but it's the hard work of small things. And that's where I try in every opportunity in those forums with my community to come back to the TNI initiative because what TNI really does is that multidisciplinary approach that builds credibility of government because my own experiences in the City of Baltimore and elsewhere are that people aren't exclusively reacting to policing, they're reacting to governance. You know, a protest is done because you believe that government will address your grievances. Riots are a product of a lack of faith in the governance. And so I think there is a really promising strategy there and I've seen others, but again, it's the hard work of small things, and when people know you care about them, it makes a huge difference and that's a difficult message in the context of a national narrative that does not, I think, represent the vast majority of police officers or the vast majority of police interactions by focusing on a small subset of things that frankly shouldn't have happened. I'll be honest about that. But the other way I illustrate that is to say that, you know, I'm frank with my community, I'm —I always have been. You know, we don't go to the airport now and fear that the captain of our aircraft is going to deliberately crash that aircraft, but that's happened in the last few years. And what we in policing see in some of these instances is that deliberate poor choice, but it doesn't reflect the vast majority of men and women —federal, state, and local officers who go out there and risk their lives every day for complete strangers. And balancing that I think is one of the things that I try to do as a leader so that people do understand where our hearts and our minds are.
CHARLES WELLFORD: Let me just add two quick things to that because I agree with those comments, but around the area of gun violence, I don't see in the research literature that police have a difficult time when they approach it seriously gaining community support and involvement. And you could start back as long ago as Operation Ceasefire in Boston where the police worked closely with community leaders to develop what turned out to be —and is still, I think —one of the few well-established programs that can reduce gun violence with community involvement.
And the second point would be the —in gun violence, the key crime for me —and I think for many people —is homicide. And while we've had this dramatic decline in homicides in recent years, we've had also a decline in homicide clearances. There are estimated over 200,000 homicides since 1980 that haven't been cleared and these tend to be in segments of the community that we think have the greatest distrust and lack of faith in the police department. And I think with no evidence at all, that part of it is their observation of the many, many people in their communities who were killed and for which nothing seems to be done. So I think a focus on community outreach, the kind of thing Prince George's County and other jurisdictions are doing and a focus on clearing homicides could help chip away at this issue of trust and confidence.
TARRICK MCGUIRE: Lt. Tarrick McGuire, Arlington, Texas, Police Department. I'm an NIJ scholar. I've spoken to Mr. Wellford the other day over the phone, an IACP fellow. I have a two-part question, one for the chief. You talked about systemic issues reference guns being brought into your community. That question is one, where are those guns coming from? And then second to the panel, is there any research to support that collecting more guns or taking more guns off the street leads to a reduction in violent offenses on communities?
HANK STAWINSKI: Well, part of what we're trying to answer is that very question, which is why we're collaborating with Dr. Wellford, but what we're finding and what we found anecdotally prior to getting to a place where we could do real research on that was a lot of those are coming through a handful of individuals who are buying them en masse in other places, importing them, and they are a shadow organization or a shadow network, if you will. The criminal fraternity knows that if they want a gun, these are the handful of people they can go to get it, and that comes back to the strategic component of this being that by tracing those who pull the trigger back to the person who supplied them with the firearm, those folks haven't come under scrutiny before. This work is an effort between ourselves and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to find those individuals and to hold them accountable. And again, the calculus there is that we can change the behavior of people who find trading in illegal guns appealing and thereby reduce the number of guns and the number of instances of violence.
CHARLES WELLFORD: I don't want to talk too much, but just to comment on the second part of your question. I don't know of any evidence that links reductions in guns to reduction —through police efforts to —in reductions in crime, partly because there's been so little effort. We just —you can't do the research unless that actually is happening where police are making a strong effort to reduce and actually can demonstrate that reduction. So I think it's an open question empirically, but logically, it just makes perfect sense to me: if you had a community with no guns, I think there'd be less gun crime.
DAVID HEMENWAY: And I'll just —and I agree entirely. And there is a lot of evidence that where there's more guns, there is more death. And actually, we're —interestingly, we're —there is some good evidences that reducing guns has been shown to reduce suicide.
JIM MAC GILLIS: Hi, I'm Lt. Mac Gillis, Milwaukee Police Department. I'm also one of the LEADS scholars. Back in my home agency, I'm actually a use of force firearms guy and, kind of, the elephant in the room, the political lobby of certain organizations in relationship to gun violence is something that is a barrier. Using science and research, you know, talking about trace and tracking prisoner interviews, has it ever been investigated to use IBIS or NIBIN technology on the front end of tagging guns at the point of purchase or prior to purchase? Well, those guns are out in society where we know if they're linked to crimes, so they can help us on the tail end to solve it. Understanding that it's —the deck is very much stacked against that any type of legislation.
HANK STAWINSKI: That hasn't been our focus up to this point because of the whole issue of gun registries in those sorts of, as you point out, large political questions. And our focus right now is on creating results. I'm not going to suggest that there isn't value to having any conversation because that's the whole point of research, but our focus has not been there. Our focus has been on the work that Dr. Wellford is doing and on the initiatives that I've mentioned.
CHARLES WELLFORD: There was an —there was an effort in Maryland with the bullet stamping, so there was a requirement that every gun that was sold, there had to be a bullet retained that would have the information be entered into a database. There was quite a bit of dissatisfaction politically when that was passed, and when it didn't produce many hits in a short period of time, which I think the people supporting it knew it wouldn't happen, you have to build that database up. It was removed and so we don't have it, but I think there is interest, it's just the political difficulty of achieving any of those.
PHELAN WYRICK: Good afternoon. I'm Phelan Wyrick with the National Institute of Justice. Chief Stawinski, you've described how you brought an emphasis on research to the operations and strategies of the Prince George's Police Department. Can you say a little more about how you're working to weave that orientation into the operations and the culture of the department so that it could survive beyond your tenure?
HANK STAWINSKI: That—well. That work began under Chief Magaw and I took the lead on a number of those initiatives, particularly in patrol. I'll say it this way. We used to structure 30-day initiatives or two-week initiatives, and we’d launch them and we’d see how they went.
Right now, we run the department in real time and so every commander understands, you know, how I interpret this, and I’m going to be frank to this. You know, this data is very important. This data reflects the effectiveness of a law enforcement agency for a community, but the thing that’s most important about this data to me: it reflects the safety of my officers, because the fewer violent crimes that are occurring in Prince George's County is the fewer opportunities for them to be facing someone with a gun or a knife. So I'm invested in driving these numbers down for their safety and the community's safety. That's that thinking comprehensively piece. And I'll suggest that you would have a tough time stepping away from how we do that because culturally, people see the value.
Nobody gets into law enforcement to fail. We want to succeed, and again, the finest people I know overwhelmingly want to help and so if you —if you use these methods that we've been championing, if you run the department in real time, if you are nimble in the way you deploy resources and you move and you can see those results, it feeds itself. It's not something that they do, I believe, at this point because I or Chief Magaw said we have to do it this way. They're adopting these methods because they see value in it and they're having success with it. And quite frankly, the greatest satisfaction I have is watching people innovate now and come up with better ways to do it, because at the end of this process, none of this is done. You know, Nike had a great slogan a few years ago: there is no finish line. We're never going to perfect policing, it's got to constantly evolve. So what we do successfully now has a shelf life of a year or maybe 18 months. The question is, what's the next thing? And constantly encouraging people throughout the department to be looking at how we do it and come up with a better way.
HOWARD SPIVAK: I think we've run out of time at this point. I want to thank David and Charles and Susan and Hank for some incredibly good presentations and a lot to think about. I'd like you all to join me in thanking them once more.
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