Friday, December 28, 2012

One Way To Reduce Gun Crime - Solve Nonfatal Shootings

Gun control and the right to bear arms has been on the minds of many since the Newtown massacre and the murder of two firefighters responding to a fire outside Rochester, New York. There are some things that can be done without even addressing the issue of gun control. One of them involves better law enforcement investigation of nonfatal shooting crimes.

A startling amount of them go unsolved for one reason or another.

If someone is murdered in NJ for example, 65% of the cases are closed as solved. For nonfatal shootings, the percentage plummets to 21%. Figure that many of the nonfatal shooting perps go on to commit other crimes.

A more concerted effort to solve the nonfatal gun crimes could have a significant effect on the crime rates and firearms incidents statewide. Heck, many police departments don't even track that kind of information.

It's an area ripe for reform and concentration of effort.

"You’ve got dozens and dozens, if not scores, of dangerous people who commit heinous crimes, who walk away and who are not held to account, and that has all kinds of implications for public safety in those towns," said Eugene O’Donnell, John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor in Manhattan, and a former assistant district attorney. He said failure to track nonfatal shootings underscores "the medieval approach that police have to crime statistics. You would think that this would be a barometer of the safety climate and the police would be on top of it."

While trying to gather information for this story, The Star-Ledger found few police departments track nonfatal shootings or the number of those cases solved. In some places, like Jersey City, the data was readily available. But most agencies needed several months to compile the statistics because the incidents first had to be identified then organized.

Because the category is not tracked as closely as homicides, experts said many law enforcement agencies may not comprehend the full extent of the problem. That would be a mistake, said Wayne Fisher, a professor at the Rutgers University Police Institute and its former director. The low closure rates in New Jersey, he said, can pose a serious threat to the public.

"What’s left on the street is both the firearm and the person that’s willing to use the firearm," Fisher said. "Let’s face it, an offender who is willing to shoot a gun at another person is an obvious threat to the public safety, whether or not that bullet, misses, injures, or takes the life of the intended victim."

Earlier this month, a 19-year-old Newark man was shot multiple times while driving through the city’s South Ward, an attack for which he remains hospitalized and barely conscious, investigators said.

Police have not identified a suspect, and no witness has stepped forward. The teen’s passenger, who was the intended target, has barely spoken to police, and the victim has been unable to communicate.
If police were forced to take a better look at nonfatal shootings and devote more resources to those crimes, they could not only bring down the crime rates, but close those cases and bring the criminals behind them to justice.

There are serious roadblocks to overcome, notably because many of these crimes go unsolved because of a lack of witnesses or other evidence that can be used to track down those responsible.

It will also involve spending more money on investigations, including crime labs and technologies that some police departments can ill afford in the current economic climate. Yet, focusing on these particular crimes could pay dividends in the long run and improve public safety considerably.

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