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Sept. 17, 2021

Investigating Gun Violence: The Key is in the Principles

Investigating Gun Violence: The Key is in the Principles

As to methods, there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.” ~ Harrington Emerson


For so many police executives, being confronted with the scourge of gun violence within their jurisdictions while being expected to address such crime it may seem like they are facing an unsolvable issue. Yet, throughout the nation there are law enforcement programs available for review and evaluation that are worth replicating. These programs combine local capabilities with programs to address and suppress gun violence. They leverage local information and criminal intelligence, the ATF’s NIBIN and eTrace programs, and information-sharing collaborations and capabilities. A review of these successful programs often identifies five key principles that underpin their success.  


  1. The employment of effective criminal investigations


In order to enforce the laws that our available in a given jurisdiction it requires agencies conduct logical and effective investigations. This involves the collection, evaluation and interpretation of information that is not only available from assessing a crime scene, but also having an intimate awareness of the recidivist shooting environment in one’s area of responsibility combined with the forensic and ballistic information associated with the crime guns, suspects and witnesses involved in the incident.  


  1. The understanding that every shooting incident and every crime gun is significant


There is a misnomer out there in the wild that some shootings are higher priorities than others. This is simply not the case. There are many stories of fired cartridge casings found on the street in areas where stop signs have been vandalized by gunfire that are linked back to murders. In those stories, witnesses may have come forward on a neighborhood canvass identifying the stop sign shooter outright or vehicle descriptions in the area at the time of the shooting. By looking at all shootings and recovered crime guns as vital to understanding the shooting environment agencies will have a greater capacity to link the pieces of the puzzle that are necessary for solving and suppressing gun violence.


  1. The development and implementation of a cross jurisdictional approach


The nature of gun crime is cross-jurisdictional. Suspects and victims (who often are former suspects or will be future suspects) and the crime guns they utilize cross multiple jurisdictions routinely. In order for investigators to be successful in closing “their” case in “their” jurisdiction or precinct will often require them to have the insight and understanding of the case, its evidence, its suspects, its victims, and its witnesses in jurisdictions that can be blocks away or hundreds of miles away. A trooper who seizes a crime gun from suspect on a motor vehicle stop may actually be recovering the key piece of evidence from a homicide case in a local jurisdiction from a state hundreds of miles away.


  1. The ability to balance the “three legged stool”


In his book, The 13 Critical Tasks: An Inside-out Approach to Solving More Gun Crime, crime intelligence expert Pete Gagliardi emphasizes the need for police executives to understand and balance what he calls the “three-legged stool.” Agencies must: a) recognize the value and strength of cross-jurisdictional teamwork to tackle gun crime, which involves strong relationships between investigators (local and federal), analysts, commanders, forensic experts, and prosecutors; b) advance policy driven tactics that ensure every recovered crime gun and every shooting incident are processed and investigated within a framework of sound standing operating procedures that promotes justice for victims, resolution for their families, and peace for affected communities; and c) layer and leverage technologies that aggregate and filter local information and criminal intelligence, against the backdrop of NIBIN, eTrace, gunfire detection data, and suspect patterns in order to develop precision based strategies and tactics.


  1. Speed matters


Regrettably, retaliatory shootings are all too common place in jurisdictions experiencing high numbers of shootings and shooting murders. With the advent of today’s medical technology, today’s shooting victim may easily become tomorrow’s shooting suspect once they are back out on the street. Bringing peace to communities suffering the scourge of gun violence require that police executive responsible for public safety recognize this cyclical nature of gun violence and implement measures that expedite the processes, practices, and their people’s focus on gun crime. We must act

expeditiously in order assess, identify and stop criminal shooters before they can re-offend.




         In the quote above by Harrington Emerson, the juxtaposition of methods and principles were highlighted. When it comes to addressing gun crime in a particular jurisdiction, regardless of its size, its resources, or its location, it is critical that five key principles be advanced to ensure that gun crime is confronted and addressed in a manner that effective and efficient while understanding the plight of the communities that are impacted.