Cities generate data about gun crime and violence within their boundaries daily, including the characteristics of gun violence victims and perpetrators, the types of guns recovered by law enforcement, and case dispositions that may prohibit an individual from possessing a firearm. Cities have continually demonstrated that establishing a robust gun violence data tracking system is the foundation for a data-driven gun violence prevention strategy and supports a focused and strategic approach to the people and places driving the violence. And by sharing their data, cities can inform the actions of local gun violence prevention efforts in other cities around the country. While most local jurisdictions report general crime statistics through the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program or the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), there is no standard method for collecting, analyzing, or publishing gun violence data; thus, data gaps related to criminal non-fatal shootings persist, and crime definitions are inconsistent across jurisdictions.1Hipple, Natalie Kroovand. “The Way Cities Report Gun Violence Is All Wrong.” The Washington Post. March 26, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-way-cities-report-gun-violence-is-all-wrong/2018/03/26/c3abde86-2607-11e8-bc72-077aa4dab9ef_story.html?utm_term=.1e7fc714c45e While many cities keep data that are far more detailed than the data collected by the FBI, this information is often buried in dense data systems and inaccessible across fields.
Reliable, insight-rich data are critical to identifying the people and places that drive violence and to maintaining responsive, sustainable, and effective gun violence prevention strategies. Tracking detailed, incident-level data will give cities the information necessary to systematically analyze the scope and characteristics of gun violence and inform the implementation of evidence-based gun violence prevention strategies. This data will also enable monitoring of violence reduction strategies and victim services over time, to help identify systemic gaps and improve implementation.
Your city will need to assign personnel to manage the initial assessment and collection of this data. Ideally, the person responsible for this process will be centrally housed within the executive’s office and will have clearance and access to review anonymized, case-level data. Additional resources may also be needed to conduct data analysis, as well as to disseminate the data, analysis, and related products to internal and external stakeholders.
Your city should also work toward contributing to the FBI’s NIBRS program. All law enforcement agencies are required to transition from UCR to NIBRS by 2021.2“NIBRS.” FBI. September 10, 2018. https://www.fbi.gov/services/cjis/ucr/nibrs Contributing to national incident-based reporting will better prepare your city for the ability to track data in-house and will allow you to examine and compare gun violence trends in similar cities.
Strategy in Practice
Prior to implementing a gun violence tracking system, you should engage the chief data officer for your city and relevant city agencies. Your chief data personnel should conduct an assessment of all automatically generated and easily accessible data related to gun violence in your city.
Next, you should convene a team of stakeholders to guide the development and implementation of a robust gun violence data tracking system. This group should include, but not be limited to, law enforcement leaders, records management personnel, representatives from your public health agency, personnel from emergency call centers (911 and 311), emergency medical services leaders, street outreach representatives, partner researchers, and other stakeholders that you deem appropriate. This team should review the quality and content of available data, identify gaps, propose potential avenues to track data that are not automatically collected, and issue recommendations for a gun violence tracking system that will be presented to the mayor, council, and other local policy-makers. The recommendations may include the types of data to be collected, a collection process, a proposed data review committee, and a process for operationalizing practice, policy, or training (e.g., annual or semi-annual policy-change recommendations delivered to the city’s executive).
There are countless data points that your city may consider adopting as a part of a longer-term strategy for tracking gun violence. Your city should prioritize collecting comprehensive, incident-level data so that you can track and analyze the data over time and assist with the identification of people and places that drive the violence. You should choose which information is most useful and accessible for your jurisdiction.
An effective gun violence data tracking system will capture the total aggregate level of gun violence incidents within a jurisdiction. Though not a comprehensive solution, tracking the total number of gun violence incidents in your jurisdiction can be a quick way to gauge progress in reducing gun violence. This should include the total number of fatal gunfire incidents, including gun homicide, gun-involved death by suicide, and unintentional fatal shootings. Cities should also prioritize collecting the same information for non-fatal shootings. For both fatal and non-fatal shootings, cities should be able to determine the distinct number of victims and the total number of incidents. Cities should also be able to track the total number of violent crimes committed while in possession of a firearm in which no one was struck by gunfire (robbery, assault, sexual assault, etc.). Finally, exposure to frequent gunfire can wreak havoc on the health and vitality of a neighborhood. City leaders should closely monitor calls and reports of shots fired, gunshot detection notifications (if applicable), and the contexts in which the gunshots occur.
In addition to tracking incident totals, cities should track the nature and characteristics of gun violence incidents. This is especially true for fatal and non-fatal shootings. Tracking this information will give cities valuable insights into the driving factors of and potential solutions to violence in their communities. Incident data may include location; victim and offender information (including relationship, if known); motive; qualities of the firearm (type of weapon, magazine capacity, relevant NIBIN or tracing information); number of shots fired; and type and severity of injury.
There are several points at which city agencies may respond to a shooting incident. Possible city service responses include 911 call response; first responders (police and/or EMS); investigative response; crime scene response; victims’ services (if offered by an in-house victim advocate); and prosecutorial process. Though this type of data may not be available for every incident across every field, cities should strive to regularly review the different points of intervention throughout the span of an individual case. Reviewing how the city as a whole responded can identify gaps in service, enhance policies and training, and ultimately improve responses to violence in the future.
Few cities have existing data or information systems that automate the collection and tracking of gun violence data, which can be time-consuming and requires close attention to detail. Cities with limited data personnel resources may find that data are not updated in a timely fashion, making meaningful analysis challenging.
Compiling data about service delivery, can be challenging. Individual agencies may feel protective or even defensive of service-level data. The review process will likely require quite a bit of trust-building among the agencies. For example, prosecutor’s offices and probation or parole agencies may initially be hesitant to share case-disposition data with city partners.
Agencies, Organizations, and Other Necessary Partners
Chief data or information officer; law enforcement leadership; prosecutors; researchers; and other service providers.
What else you need to know
You should contact your records management system providers to inquire how they may help you in automating the collection of this information.
Newsroom & Resources
Washington Post Op-Ed on reporting gun violence
Opinion: The way cities report gun violence is all wrong