The Lab @ DC
Stronger Evidence for a Stronger DC

Does better data from gun crimes have an impact on criminal justice outcomes?

Does better data from gun crimes have an impact on criminal justice outcomes?

Project Summary
Reducing gun violence is a top priority for the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), the Bowser Administration, and the community. To reduce gun crime in the District, MPD collaborated with multiple federal and local government agencies to create the DC Crime Gun Intelligence Center (CGIC), which links evidence across cases where the same gun is used. We are investigating whether additional improvements in the CGIC have had an impact on crime rates, gunshot alerts, and gun-related arrests. Our findings will be used to inform decisions on how best to reduce gun crime in DC.

Why is this issue important in DC?
In 2018, homicides spiked across the District with 160 reported incidents, compared to 116 homicides reported in 2017. At the same time, the use of firearms in violent crimes also increased. 1 Observations suggest that there is a small group of repeat offenders who commit violence, particularly firearm-related violence, in Washington, DC. CGIC helps to identify these repeat shooters, link ballistics evidence and recovered firearms across crime scenes, and ultimately prosecute cases to hold these repeat violent offenders accountable.

What are we doing?
The U.S. Department of Justice awarded MPD a grant to hire forensic personnel for the DC Department of Forensic Sciences, and a specialized CGIC analyst. The funds also allowed MPD to train more detectives about ATF's National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) and the Crime Gun Intelligence process. From November 2017 through April 2019, these improvements were piloted in the Seventh Police District (7D), where there has been a concentration of gun crime.

Because of this concentration, comparing 7D against another police district where gun crime rates are lower would not be a good way for us to evaluate the effects of these CGIC improvements. Instead, we use a statistical model to combine the areas without the focused CGIC support into a comparison group that looks more like the crime trends in the Seventh District. We compare crime rates, gunshot alerts, and gun-related arrests between this newly-created comparison group with those actually occurring in the Seventh District.

What have we learned?
We are awaiting results. MPD’s final report will be delivered to the United States Department of Justice in Fall 2019.

You never know if that shell casing is going to be the shell casing that closes one of your violent crimes.
— MPD Chief Peter Newsham2

What comes next?
If we find a positive effect, DC government may support the continued improvement and interagency collaboration for CGIC enhancements in largely the same structure. A negative effect might prompt partner agencies to further review the design and implementation of CGIC processes.

There may also be reasons to think that some of the effects will only be realized after more time has passed. Specifically, it may take multiple years for cases linked to CGIC to make their way through the court system. This report will be one of the first rigorous evaluations of a CGIC and may help guide other CGICs across the country.

What happened behind the scenes?
Members from The Lab and agency partners traveled to both Philadelphia and Denver to observe CGICs in those jurisdictions and interview local staff. The Lab also conducted multiple interviews and exercises to understand the current state of CGIC and administered a focus group with six MPD detectives to hear about the benefits and drawbacks of the kinds of intelligence information they receive from CGIC.