In the first 27 days of October, Baltimore suffered 24 murders and 60 nonfatal shootings. The difference between life and death is often bad aim or good luck.
The Marshall Project, a not-for-profit newsroom covering the U.S. criminal justice system, reports that most major U.S. police departments devote far fewer resources to solving nonfatal shootings than fatal shootings. That’s very unfortunate because when someone shoots at someone else, nonfatal results are meant to be fatal. The next time they may be.
The Marshall Project added that nationwide arrests are made in about 50 percent of fatal shootings, but that arrests happen only in about 10 percent of nonfatal shootings. While Baltimore’s 2022 arrest rate for homicides (36.3%) and nonfatal shootings (23.3%) are not as disparate as the national number reported by the Marshall Project, the arrest rate is still too low for all shootings.
The Denver Police Department has taken another approach to ending gun violence on its streets, and its approach is working. Following an alarming upward trend of shootings, Denver figured that any illegal shooting involved a dangerous person who needed to be taken off the streets.
Denver adopted a perspective to policing that would require that its officers take a serious approach to solving every shooting, fatal and nonfatal. To do this a special unit called FAST was created. Baltimore’s new police commissioner should take notice.
The Denver Police Department gave its FAST detectives the time and resources to go after the nonfatal shooters, and the results are impressive. Arrests of nonfatal shooters have tripled. It has not been reported whether these arrests result in convictions or guilty pleas.
Still, the Marshall Project questions why other police departments, like Baltimore’s, do not adopt Denver’s model. It and the U.S. Department of Justice recognized that Denver’s homicide unit was comprised of a highly trained, motivated, cadre of experienced detectives. Those detectives were able to work numerous cases in tandem. But in Denver, the nonhomicide shootings were assigned to the districts; in other words, investigations were decentralized, and the districts were overloaded.
All these cases needed quick attention before new cases took their place, witnesses disappeared or lost their urge to cooperate, officers became frustrated and nonfatal shooting investigations found the back burner. FAST was created to overcome these obstacles by devoting time and resources to solving the nonfatal shootings.
Catching these nonfatal shooters is critical for numerous reasons. First and foremost they have shown a propensity to kill even if they miss. Second there is the lack of both credibility and trust among citizens for the department when it can’t catch these shooters. The solution, according to one scholar who has studied this subject, is to solve nonfatal shootings through longer investigations and not allow these cases to go cold. That means more resources and the right leaders and team members. That’s what FAST does.
It’s time for the Baltimore Police Department to examine, or reexamine, Denver’s FAST approach. One who shoots once is likely to shoot again, and being a nonfatal victim instead of a corpse is nothing more than a matter of bad aim or good luck.
Editorial Advisory Board member Leigh Goodmark did not participate in this opinion.
EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS
James B. Astrachan, Chair
James K. Archibald
Gary E. Bair
Andre M. Davis
Arthur F. Fergenson
Julie C. Janofsky
Ericka N. King
Susan F. Martielli
Angela W. Russell
Debra G. Schubert
H. Mark Stichel
The Daily Record Editorial Advisory Board is composed of members of the legal profession who serve voluntarily and are independent of The Daily Record. Through their ongoing exchange of views, members of the board attempt to develop consensus on issues of importance to the bench, bar and public. When their minds meet, unsigned opinions will result. When they differ, or if a conflict exists, majority views and the names of members who do not participate will appear. Members of the community are invited to contribute letters to the editor and/or columns about opinions expressed by the Editorial Advisory Board.