While many police agencies make it a regular practice to review gun-related homicides and non-fatal shootings internally and to form violence prevention strategies based on this information (i.e., CompStat and similar practices), expanding this practice to include organizations outside of the policing or criminal justice field can be beneficial. An interagency working group brings a wide range of knowledge and experience to the table to assess and develop innovative solutions to gun crime, especially homicides and non-fatal shootings.1John Klofas and Natalie Kroovand Hipple, “Project Safe Neighborhoods: Strategic Interventions; Crime Incident Reviews Case Study 3,” US Department of Justice, May 2006, https://www.bja.gov/Publications/Crime_Incident_Reviews.pdf. A multidisciplinary homicide (and/or shooting) incident review team (sometimes called simply a “review” team) collects comprehensive data on gun-related homicides and shootings and regularly shares this detailed information in a working group setting to create specific interventions in an effort to reduce lethal violence.
Homicide (and shooting) incident reviews enhance the ability to understand the nature of gun-related crimes and provide tailored and data-driven responses (interventions) to homicide issues in specific areas.2Anthony A. Braga et al., “Problem-Oriented Policing, Deterrence, and Youth Violence: An Evaluation of Boston’s Operation Ceasefire,” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 38, no.3 (2001): 195-225. Expanding on successful efforts that involve incident reviews by incorporating a wide range of stakeholders creates a comprehensive approach to violence reduction. For example, in Milwaukee, an impact evaluation found that districts receiving interventions developed from the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission process saw a statistically significant decrease in homicides compared to control districts.3Deborah Azrael, Anthony A. Braga, and Mallory O’Brien, “Developing the Capacity to Understand and Prevent Homicide: An Evaluation of the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission” (Boston: Harvard School of Public Health, 2013), https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/240814.pdf.
These reviews allow scarce resources to be used efficiently and effectively in order to reduce overall lethal violence. The review process fosters trust-building and ongoing communication between different organizations to the benefit of the city and its residents. They also promote information sharing within agencies (particularly the police department). The review process also permits adaptability and further development over time to address changing crime trends, resources, and participants.
Staffing will be the most valuable resource for a successful review team and process. The review team will need dedicated researchers and/or analysts to collect both quantitative and qualitative data in real time continuously. This task could include a combination of personnel from local universities and/or police or prosecutorial personnel. In addition to the comprehensive data collection, it is the knowledge and experience that various participants from different backgrounds and fields bring that elevate the effectiveness of the review team and its ability to problem-solve complex issues. The review team may begin small and expand over time; however, it is crucial that knowledgable, collaborative people are participating from the start.
Strategy in Practice
Adopting incident reviews (homicide and/or shootings) in your city will rely on the formation of partnerships between stakeholders including (but not limited to) local law enforcement, probation/parole, prosecutors, outreach workers, social services, federal agencies, neighborhood associations, businesses, and city leaders. Representatives from each organization offer different insights about the incidents and trends occurring in the area. Information sharing drives strategy development to address recurring (and underlying) issues around gun-related homicides and shootings.
The review process is systematic and begins with comprehensive and timely crime data collection efforts. Where data is available, you should consider incorporating reviews of unintentional shootings and firearm-related death by suicide into your review process. You should gather as much information as possible regarding a shooting, including victim and shooter information, location, motive, and other case details. The review process may focus initially on one specific area or district and then expand over time. Researchers and analysts should aggregate this data and look for patterns to share with the incident review team.
How often your incident review team meets will vary depending on the structure and availability of participants. Some jurisdictions meet weekly while others meet monthly (and some reviews are broken up, so that different team members meet at different times). Meetings should include a presentation of the relevant crime data, solicitation of new information from participants, and missing information or questions to be answered. Based on the data and discussion, recommendations (or interventions) are established with actionable tasks presented at future meetings.4Natalie Kroovand Hipple et al., “Gun Crime Incident Reviews as a Strategy for Enhancing Problem Solving and Information Sharing,” Journal of Crime and Justice 40, no. 1 (2017): 50–67. 5Azrael, Braga, and O’Brien, “Developing the Capacity to Understand.”
Crime data collection and records management is essential to the review process. While larger police agencies may have the capability to produce robust and detailed analysis of gun-related homicides and non-fatal shootings, others may be limited by their existing systems (particularly in relation to non-fatal shootings) and may need funding to support better analytics (both technology and personnel).
Participants in the multidisciplinary team may need to overcome past experiences or preconceived notions of other agencies in order to fully engage in the review process. Building trust between participants (agencies) is essential for information sharing and collaborative problem solving. Additionally, each participating agency must have a willingness to be transparent and accountable when recommendations for change arise that involve their particular organization. Finally, long-term support and commitment is often a challenge with many multigroup efforts.6Hipple et al., “Gun Crime Incident Reviews.”
Incident reviews should invite involvement from street outreach and violence interrupter organizations. Typically, these organizations are represented by a manager or other senior organizational official. Importantly, several jurisdictions report that there is a necessary “firewall” protecting strategy and client relationships for outreach workers. While street outreach organizations do not typically provide intelligence to law enforcement at the shooting review, these meetings provide important information for street outreach workers to help detect and interrupt potentially violent conflicts. This type of one-way communication can be a difficult adjustment to make, especially for law enforcement partners; however, it is necessary to preserve the outreach organization’s status as credible messengers in the community.
Agencies, Organizations, and Other Necessary Partners
The lead agency for an incident review process can vary based on the needs and resources of a city. Local police agencies are likely to have the most staffing present for the review process, such as crime analysts, homicide detectives, gang unit members, and district commanders. Many cities utilize local university researchers to assist with data collection and analysis and to help manage the ongoing review process. There is a wide range of participants that can contribute valuable information to gun-related homicides and non-fatal shootings, including, but not limited to, street outreach organizations, social services, probation/parole offices, city leaders, neighborhood organizations, local business associations, federal agencies (FBI, ATF, HIDTA, DEA), local and federal prosecutors, and violence prevention organizations.
The scope of the review team may grow and change over time as resources, personnel, and crime trends change. The structure of the review team may also vary based on location and needs. For example, the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission has a multitiered review structure with different participants joining the conversation at different levels of the review process. It also has a designated working group and an executive committee to monitor activities.7Azrael, Braga, and O’Brien, “Developing the Capacity to Understand.”
What Else You Need To Know
Utilizing third-party researchers (such as from a university) provides neutral guidance during the review process and allows other stakeholders to balance their responsibilities outside of the review team. Data analysis, meeting organization and preparation, and follow-up are time-consuming. Some cities found that allowing the researchers to take on these tasks freed up human resources in city-run agencies.
Cities who use or have used incident reviews adjust their focus and processes over time as they learn what works well and what can be improved. For example, some cities found it was easier to initially focus their efforts on gun-related homicides, since the data they had on these crimes were more readily accessible. Later on, many looked (and found) ways to collect data on non-fatal shootings as well, which provided a more complete picture of gun crimes in the city.8Hipple et al., “Gun Crime Incident Reviews.”
Newsroom & Resources
Developing the Capacity to Understand and Prevent Homicide
This document presents findings of a formative evaluation, a process evaluation and an impact evaluation of the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission. It presents details on how the Commission was formed and evolved over time as well as the benefits and challenges the Commission faced during the evaluation period. Learn More
Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission
The Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission is one of the longest running documented incident review effort. Established in 2006, this is a multi-level and multi-discipline working group to address homicides and non-fatal shootings in the City of Milwaukee. This website provides information about the Commission including yearly reports and news. Of particular interest may be the Prevention Model, Accomplishments, and Future Directions document from 2010 which describes the Commission’s staffing, committees, oversight, funding, accomplishments and goals at that time. There is also a link to homicide review training from the DOJ Community Oriented Policing Services Office.
The National Institute of Justice CrimeSolutions.gov
The National Institute of Justice CrimeSolutions.gov gave an evidence rating of “effective” to the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission. This website provides an overview of the program plus highlights of its evaluation study.