Gun violence report will help city leaders develop intervention and prevention strategies
3 mins read

Gun violence report will help city leaders develop intervention and prevention strategies

Gun violence report will help city leaders develop intervention and prevention strategies

Thursday, July 11, 2024 by Amy Smith

For a city its size, Austin has a low gun homicide rate, averaging four per 100,000 residents over a 15-year period. But an “alarming” increase in shootings following the Covid-19 pandemic — from January 2021 to December 2022 — has pushed the city’s homicide rate up to 8.3 and 7.1, respectively.

Credit: National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform

To understand some of the factors behind the explosion in violent crime during this period, the city’s Office of Violence Intervention, a relatively new division created by a 2019 City Council resolution, contracted with the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, a nonprofit focused on reducing incarceration and violent crime, and Dr. Chico Tillmon, a national violence prevention consultant, to conduct an analysis of gun violence in Austin.

The consultants, working with the Austin Police Department, examined a sample of 142 homicides from Austin’s shooting surge between 2021 and 2022. Officer-involved shootings, accidental self-inflicted injuries and justified self-defense incidents were excluded from the study.

The report, released earlier this month, said the aim of the analysis was to examine the circumstances of each incident, explore the characteristics of the parties involved and “identify the networks associated with the highest risk of violence.”

The detailed analysis, known in the criminal justice field as the Gun Violence Problem Analysis, was conducted with some limitations, the researchers note. Typically, researchers examine both fatal and nonfatal shootings and homicides, “but we were only allowed to conduct interviews for homicide incidents,” they note. Additionally, the consultants were unable to interview homicide investigators who worked the cases because of staffing shortages within the APD. Instead, they interviewed sergeants in the homicide division.

“This approach generally limits the detailed information that researchers can gather about the motivations and individuals involved,” the report says.

But the researchers found several key lessons from studying the 142 homicide cases that could inform emerging crime prevention efforts in the city.

Here are some of the highlights of the findings:

  • Most of the shootings involve a small group of young white and black adults between the ages of 18 and 34, with criminal histories, many of whom are linked to groups or gangs.
  • Nearly 54% of the victims and suspects were white and nearly 43% were black. About 32% of the victims and suspects were Hispanic.
  • Black people are vastly overrepresented among homicide victims and suspects.
  • Suspects tend to be younger than victims: about 50 percent of suspects were 24 or younger.
  • Approximately 63% of homicide victims and suspects were known to the criminal justice system prior to the incident, and 54% of them had previously been convicted of a crime.

The report concludes on a hopeful note: “Promising efforts are underway to implement targeted deterrence measures within the Austin Police Department and the Office of Violence Prevention’s community violence intervention programs. Expanding and coordinating these efforts could prove effective in reducing gun violence in Austin.”

Photo by St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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