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Apr 23, 2016

Guns and America’s murder board

Co-produced with PRX Logo


On this hour of Reveal, we take a look at the toll of gun violence in the country, who’s documenting the carnage and how lives can be saved.

We start in New Orleans, where Father Bill Terry has been publicly documenting the names of men and women slain in the city on what he calls a “murder board,” which hangs on the exterior wall of his church. He talks to host Al Letson about how the memorial came to be and the gravity behind this long list of names.

Next, reporter Michael Montgomery meets a man who stands on both sides of the gun debate – an enthusiast who’s also building a database of every incident of gun violence in the country.  His research is challenging some of the core claims of the gun rights movement.

Then we head to San Francisco to check out a high-tech system that police departments across the country are using to help stop crime. It listens for gunshots, then directs police to the scene. But officers rarely end up making arrests, and some agencies question whether the technology is worth the expense.

Next, we take a look at how data is used to target young men most likely to shoot someone or get shot – but not for what you think. Sukey Lewis of KQED brings us this story from Richmond, California.

Finally, we revisit Terry in New Orleans, who in addition to memorializing the victims of crime in his community has created a program to steer the youngest generation away from guns and violence.

DIG DEEPER

  • Read: ShotSpotter not exactly taking a bite out of crime

Credits

Support for Reveal is provided by The Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Mary and Steven Swig.

Track list:

  • Camerado-Lightning, “True Game (Reveal show theme)” (Cut-Off Man Records)
  • Boards of Canada, “Peacock Tail” from“The Campfire Headphase” (Warp)
  • Mike Link & Harvey Taylor, “Night Song” from“Crossing the Bridge”
  • 3K3, “Garden Studies #1 / Lunchtime Blues” from“Live at WFMU”
  • Tom Carter, “For 4 Cs” from“Live at WFMU on Airborne Event”
  • Jim Briggs, “This Person” (Cut-Off Man Records)
  • Jim Briggs, “Steve + Friends” (Cut-Off Man Records)
  • Steffen Basho-Junghans, “1st Movement” from “Inside” (Strange Attractors Audio House)
  • Sheeba Exp, “Walden" from “Walden Sessions” (Spettro)
  • Ben Benjamin, “Sassy Blanche” from “The Many Moods Of Ben Benjamin Vol. 1” (Ghostly International)
  • Jim Briggs, “Here's the Catch” (Cut-Off Man Records)
  • Sheeba Exp, “Ending” from “Walden Sessions” (Spettro)
  • Luke Pigott, “Goodbye” from “When Can We Go Home” (Ousted Records)
  • Alan Singley, “Taking Dark Matter Lightly” (Needle Drop Co.)
  • Jim Briggs, “Pensive” (Cut-Off Man Records)
  • Mux Mool, “Mexican Eggroll” (Ghostly International)
  • Ketsa, “Where the River Run” from “Universal Law” (Ketsa Music)
  • Jim Briggs, “The Closer You Are (version 1)” (Cut-Off Man Records)
  • Jim Briggs, “The Closer You Are (version 2)” (Cut-Off Man Records)

TRANSCRIPT:

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal's radio stories is the audio.

Section 1 of 3          [00:00:00 - 00:14:05] (NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)

Al:

From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. Every few weeks, Father Bill Terry puts on his garments and steps outside St. Anna's Episcopal Church in the Treme neighborhood in New Orleans. He's a tall man with long, white hair and a beard, and he walks up to a large whiteboard attached to the front of the church building holding a sheet of paper and a permanent marker.

Bill:

I won't need a ladder today, but I will start writing these names. Let's see. That's 2016.

Al:

Father Bill is adding names to what he calls the murder board. It's a list he's been keeping since 2007 of all the people who've been murdered in New Orleans. In the lettering, he slowly writes down four pieces of information: the date of the incident, the name of the victim, the age, and how they were killed.

Bill:

Malcolm Harris, 31, shot.

Al:

In addition to the board he's writing on today, there are three others, each about 4 feet high, 6 feet wide, hung on the cast-iron fence that runs along the sidewalk. At first glance, you might not know exactly what it is, but when you look closer, the gravity of the lives lost sinks in.

Bill:

Then we have Renata Vaughan.

Al:

When he's finished writing the names, Father Bill prays for the victims in silence, makes the sign of the cross, and walks back inside.

 

New Orleans is ranked among the most violent cities in the US, and since he started keeping track in 2007, Father Bill has put up about 1800 names, and even though the murder rate has dipped over the past couple years, he says there are still way too many people killed in his community.

Bill:

The murder board attempts to create a sense of profound loss because it's a list of names. It moves it out of a numbers game and into more of a moral, ethical fabric of humanity, and it does so without judgment. You can't tell the bad guys from the good guys on this list. That doesn't mean I don't believe in justice, but I certainly believe in the value of all human life, and this board speaks to that.

Al:

What was the catalyst for the murder board?

Bill:

The catalyst was the overwhelming amount of violent crime in our city, and then there was an incident which I often reflect on. In July of 2005, my wife and I were sitting in the living room one night and we watched the news as we did every night, and of course every night they were reporting another murder, and my wife turned around and asked me, "Where was that murder?" and I said, "Don't worry. It wasn't in our neighborhood."

 

That very night, we went to bed and there was gunfire across the street. Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, and I went running out like an idiot to see what was going on. By the time I got there, there was a young man lay down in a parking lot, and his girlfriend was half a block down the street screaming, and believe it or not, within a minute the police were there securing the scene.

 

I tried a few times to approach the young man to give him last rites or at least some prayers, and I was kind of fended off by the chief detective saying that I would contaminate the crime scene, which to this very day bugs me. I think that was bull, but in any event, the whole night was surreal, so that taught me that, "Don't worry about it. It's not my neighborhood," isn't good enough, and those were my words.

Al:

Two years later, Father Bill and one of his deacons came up with the idea of the murder board, and immediately, community took notice.

Bill:

Oh, I have people drive up in minivans that I'll see sometimes. They all come piling out and take photographs. I've even had people go up and write names on it that I haven't gotten to yet, so it's kind of a public memorial or a symbol for them. I think one lady said it best when she met me at the church, and she said, "I want to thank you for putting my son's name up there. I didn't think anybody cared about him anymore."

 

I know what it's like to lose a child. Several years ago now, my daughter at age 19 committed suicide rather violently, so I'm a parent who has survived the death of a child, so I can have a pretty good handle on or certainly a high degree of empathy and understanding for other surviving victims of violence, especially family members.

Al:

Can you talk a little bit about how you see guns affecting your community?

Bill:

All you have to do is look at the murder board. In fact, give me two seconds. The names for this past week or week and a half, and I'm going to read how this list reads, and then you tell me how guns play a role. Joshua Woodruff was vehicular homicide. Myeisha McDaniels, shot. Sammie Banks, 61, shot. Billy Dix, 26, shot. Ryan Saffrhan, 34, shot. Rashawn Smith, shot. Malcolm Harris, shot. Renata Vaughan, stabbed. You tell me how guns play a role in it.

Al:

Why do you think there's such a proliferation of it in your community?

Bill:

How about from sea to shining sea, the proliferation of guns. It's not just this community. Most any urban community, you go to any neighborhood that's kind of on the fringes, a little rough around the edges, you can pick up a piece for 25, 30 bucks. This country is so arms driven for personal use that it's incredible, absolutely incredible, and I own guns. I own two dozen guns. I love them. They're beautiful, handcrafted in some cases, some from the turn-of-the-century. I've got a German Luger.

 

It's not that I hate guns. I hate what our country has turned guns into. The symbol of freedom, and a symbol of macho, and in some neighborhoods, a symbol of power and authority.

Al:

That was Father Bill Terry from St. Anne's Episcopal Church, New Orleans. The debate over guns in America is as heated as ever. Every mass shooting prompts new calls to limit access to firearms, yet more people than ever are buying and carrying weapons for protection. We're all familiar with the battle lines. Gun rights groups, mainly the National Rifle Association, make their case all the time in speeches and videos.

Male:

The Second Amendment is the most vital amendment because without it there is no First Amendment, because if you say you have the right to free speech and freedom of religious expression, everything else, but you have no way to defend that right, then it's meaningless.

Al:

The NRA's argument isn't just that owning guns is a constitutional right. They say guns make all of us a lot safer. The group claims it has the research and the data to back this up. Information is used to help pass laws, making it easier to carry a gun. Now, advocates on the other side of the debate have their own research to support a different agenda: more background checks and tighter restrictions on access to guns.

 

Now, you'd think in a country with so many guns and so much gun violence the federal government would try to keep comprehensive data on things like how many people own guns, how many are killed or injured each day with firearms, but it doesn't, and that gets to our next story. It's about a man with his feet in both sides of the debate. He's devoting his life to documenting every incident of gun violence in America. Reveal's Michael Montgomery picks up our story in Lexington, Kentucky.

Michael:

Buds Gun Shop & Range is a long, one-story building tucked behind a shopping center just off Highway 60. It's late Wednesday morning when we catch up with Mark Bryant. He's just come from his home office, where he's been gathering the latest reports on shootings from around the country. Mark walks into Buds and flashes a silver membership card. Then he heads to a firing lane and opens a black duffel bag full of handguns.

Mark:

A modern Smith & Wesson .45, a 1911 .45, a Beretta 9mm, Glock the military uses, a small .38, and we brought a large .44.

Michael:

It's the heavy-duty revolver Dirty Harry made famous. Mark adjusts his feet slightly …

Mark:

It's getting ready to make noise.

Michael:

… and fires. His shots hit the center of the target: a paper silhouette of a person.

Mark:

Interestingly, I go when I'm frustrated with the gun violence work. I go shoot holes in paper. It gives you a focus point 25 yards away, the size of a quarter or a half dollar, and everything else is in the peripheral.

Michael:

Mark is a burly guy with silver hair he used to wear in a ponytail and a big, bushy beard. For years, he worked as a systems analyst for big companies like IBM. Looking at him, you can't quite tell if he's an aging hippie or a good old boy riding into the sunset.

Mark:

There's probably some good old boy left in me. I've lived in New York and California in different places, so some of that is gone, but I'm from Harlan, so there's a certain level of me that's not going to change.

Michael:

He's talking about Harlan County, Kentucky, where he grew up.

Mark:

A lot of the fathers, after church, after lunch, would take the kids up to the garbage dump and we would shoot rats, so I learned to shoot at about five years old with a .22 rifle that my father had bought back in 1937 for, I think, $13.

Michael:

Mark still enjoys shooting at the range, but as he grew older his views on guns started to change. He was hearing more stories about friends and friends of friends who were shot. Some were victims of crimes. Some were accidental. Others were suicides.

 

The systems guy in Mark wanted more information. He wanted to know how many Americans were touched by gun violence. Media coverage was misleading. News crews have closely followed mass shootings, but overall, far more people were killed and injured in smaller-scale incidents that often got little or no attention. Mark found the way government tracks gun violence was also spotty.

Mark:

I sometimes think some states' crime reports are run through the tourism bureau before they make it out to the public. If something happens in one town 25 miles away, nobody will know about it.

Michael:

A few years ago, he launched the Gun Violence Archive with funding from a Washington philanthropist named Mike Klein. It's an online database that tracks gun incidents from across the country and makes that information quickly available to the public. Each day, Mark's researchers comb thousands of websites, news outlets, reports from police and coroners' offices. The archive tracks all sorts of incidents, like crimes involving stolen weapons.

Mark:

People don't realize that there are 250,000 guns stolen every year. That's 250,000 guns that ends up on the street.

Michael:

Mark also tallies accidental shootings, child gunshot victims, and times when guns are used to intimidate but aren't actually fired. His archive is closely followed by the media, academic researchers, and some law enforcement agencies. In 2015, it recorded some 53,000 incidents that resulted in more than 13,000 deaths. Mark says the costs go far beyond human lives.

Mark:

Gun violence costs billions of tax dollars in added police and emergency rooms and loss of wages, loss of taxes with wages. The cost is just mind numbing.

Michael:

Mark hoped his database would help policymakers craft gun laws that could save lives, but in America, you can't wade into the numbers without also wading into the intense politics of guns.

 

We got a taste of that last year at a fancy ballroom in Nashville, Tennessee, on the eve of the National Rifle Association's annual meeting. It was a fundraiser for the Crime Prevention Research Center, a group whose work supports some of the NRA's most

Section 1 of 3          [00:00:00 - 00:14:05]

Section 2 of 3          [00:14:00 - 00:28:05] (NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)

Matt:

Center, a group whose work supports some of the NRA's most popular slogans.

Ted Nugent:

More guns = less crime. Fewer is a murderer's dream.

Matt:

That's Ted Nugent, the rocker and long time NRA board member. He's a big star on the gun circuit, outspoken, sometimes, outrageous. Ted's wearing a camouflage jacket and cap, and he's speaking to about a hundred people. They're dressed from everything from suits and fancy dresses to jeans and cowboy boots.

Ted Nugent:

I know some of you have family members that are anti-gun. Fix them. I know you have co-workers that don't like guns and don't like the NRA. Fix them. Hammer the living [bleep] out of them. Everyday, with statistics, John's got the statistics.

Matt:

Ted's talking about John Lott. He's a controversial economist who founded the research center a few years ago.

Ted Nugent:

Ladies and gentlemen, John Lott.

Matt:

This is his event.

John:

What do you say? After you listen to Ted, it's like anything is anti-climactic. [crosstalk 00:15:12]

Matt:

John's best known book, "More Guns, Less Crime", has been widely challenged by some academic researchers, but it's a bible for the gun rights movement.

John:

We had a survey that came out, showing that the vast majority of economists think that having guns make people safer.

Matt:

John Lott couldn't be more different from Mark Bryant. John is skinny and bookish. He's ambivalent about owning guns himself but is a big ally of the NRA, and he's dismissive of Mark's gun violence archive.

John:

I don't think he's doing a very good job.

Matt:

He says even the very phrase 'gun violence' ignores the benefits of guns.

John:

Guns make it easier for bad things to happen, there's no doubt about that, but they also make it easier for people to protect themselves and prevent bad things from happening.

[00:16:00]
Matt:

 

According to John Lott, people use guns to stop crimes all the time. It's just that it doesn't show up in databases or in media and police reports, but he says that if you look at surveys of crime victims ...

John:

You're going to get 5 times or so the rate that people use guns defensively as compared to using guns in the commission of crimes.

Matt:

This is known as defensive use, and it's a big deal in the gun rights movement. If you do the math, which John is saying is that guns are used in self defense more than a million times each year. Mark Bryant says that if that were the case, his researchers would know about it.

Mark:

The logic that they use that says ... Most of them just aren't reported. We just walk away happy that we kicked ass. That's baloney. That says that we took the law on our own hands, and did not think there was a need to inform of a crime that occurred that escalated the point that we needed a gun.

[00:17:00]
Matt:

 

Mark's gun violence archive documented just 1,300 cases of people using guns defensively in 2015. Mark says the actual number is probably a little higher, it's still a tiny fraction of the figures claimed by John Lott. This isn't just an abstract debate about statistics. John Lott's researched is used to back laws, making it easier to carry concealed weapons.

John:

When you pass right-to-carry laws, as the percent of the population with permits increases, you see drops in violent crimes. Some criminals stop committing crimes. Some criminals switch into other types of crimes. Some criminals move to other areas.

Mark:

He wants us to believe that there's a direct cause and effect.

Matt:

Mark Bryant says data on gun violence doesn't support John's claims about the benefits of concealed-carry laws.

Mark:

[00:18:00]

At one point, he was clamoring that Chicago's gun deaths were down because of the new concealed-carry law in Illinois. The law had been in existence for about 30 days. Too many times, folks will tailor the data to suit their message that they already have.

Matt:

Even though Mark says the gun lobby is wrong about the number of crimes stopped by firearms, it doesn't seem to matter; John's side is winning. All you have to do is look at the number of laws that allow more people to carry guns. More than 3 dozen states have now passed concealed-carry legislation or loosed existing laws, according to advocates on both sides of the debate. Just in the past decade, the number of permits has nearly tripled to more than 13 million.

 

 

[00:19:00]

When it comes to tailoring gun data, Mark says the NRA and its allies are the biggest offenders, but he says liberal groups sometimes do it, too. One example, Every Town for Gun Safety, that's the group funded by former New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, Mark says Ever Town has inflated the number of school shootings by including incidents that don't involve students or staff.

Mark:

2 guys meet at the parking lot that happens to belong to a school, at 3:00 in the morning, to exchange drugs or guns or girls or whatever, and gunfire comes into play. That's not really a school shooting. I think the ideas is that if 12 is bad then 23's a lot worse.

Matt:

We contacted Every Town, and a representative told us they stand by their numbers.

 

Mark Bryant says his archive is non partisan, but his private views lean toward gun violence prevention groups. He believes in tighter background checks and better ways to store guns safely. Still, some people on the liberal side of the fence don't know what to make of Mark.

Amanda:

[00:20:00]

I think that there are times when a minority of people in the Push for Gun reform will wonder what he's all about. Who is this Mark Bryant from Kentucky who owns a lot of guns and sticks up for gun people? He's not our kind.

Matt:

Amanda Gailey is a member of Nebraskans Against Gun Violence. She's friendly with Mark and relies on his database to track local gun violence.

Amanda:

It takes a while to realize that he's exactly the kind of person we need in the gun reform push. He's fact based, fact driven.

Matt:

The facts assembled in the gun violence archive underscore the urgency of the issue. Last year alone, more than 3,300 children in America were killed or wounded by guns.

Mark:

You're just seeing a constant grind of pain.

Matt:

Pain that sometimes hits home. Mark had to hire a trauma counselor to work with his staff. Recently, 1 researcher quit her job. It was all just too much.

Mark:

I believe it was an infant that was shot and killed. That took her over the edge.

 

When I was starting this in '13, I could remember the name of every victim. I knew how old they were. I could remember their photographs that were in the newspapers. Now, I cannot do that. That's a good thing. I've detached from that. It's bad that there's been so many of them that have just calloused me, but that's where it is.

Al:

Our story was produced by Reveal's Michael Montgomery and co-reported by Matt Drange. In the interest of full disclosure, we should mention that the brother of one of our producers is a staffer at Every Town for Gun Safety, that's the gun control group funded by Michael Bloomberg.

 

[00:22:00]

People on both sides of the debate say they want to see fewer deaths and injuries by guns. Next, a high tech system that listens for gun shots and directs police to the scene, but does it catch the bad guys? That's coming up next on Reveal.

 

From the Center for Investigative Reporting in PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson.

 

Today, we're looking at guns in America through data and statistics. Police departments across the country are looking for ways to curb gun violence. Typically, police first learn about a shooting from a 911 call. In many cases, the caller doesn't know exactly what happened.

Caller 1:

The car that's parked in front of 1901 [Pa-loo 00:22:27] has glass all over it.

911:

Did he shoot the vehicle?

Caller 1:

I don't know. I didn't see that part. I saw him go back into the property with a gun.

911:

Okay, and where is this guy now?

Caller 1:

Still in the property, I believe.

Al:

In this case, San Francisco police arrived before the woman could even finish the call.

Caller 1:

Yeah. I'm talking to a police captain right now. Do I need to talk to you, too?

911:

You're speaking with the police?

Caller 1:

I have a police captain in front of me. Yes.

911:

Go ahead and ...

Al:

Police found out about the shooting because of something called ShotSpotter. It's the gun shot detection technology that's supposed to help law enforcement reduce gun crime. ShotSpotter is used in about 90 cities across the country. It's even installed in schools. It's costing tax payers millions of dollars each year. We wanted to know what the police and the public are getting in return. Reveal's Matt Drange brings us his story.

Matt:

The way it works is simple. A series of sensors, think big, sensitive microphones, are installed around a city, rooftops, streetlamps, the higher up the better. The sensors are always on, always listening. Here's what a ShotSpotter alert sounds like.

 

When 3 or more sensors detect possible gunshots, ShotSpotter plots them on a map and notifies police dispatchers. The way San Francisco officials talk about it, you'd think the technology has revolutionized their approach to fighting gun crime.

Diana:

ShotSpotter has helped us because we know that we have forensic evidence that we can rely upon in proving that a shooting data did not take place. We're able ...

[00:24:00]
Matt:

 

That's San Francisco's assistant district attorney, Diana Garcia. She's speaking in a promotional video ShotSpotter produced a couple years ago. Garcia was joined by an official from the mayor's office and San Francisco police chief Greg Suhr.

Greg:

They say number 1 thing that reduces crime, the fear of being caught ... We're catching the bad guys.

Matt:

San Francisco first installed the technology back in 2008. Since then, police have expanded the system to cover 13 square miles, costing tax payers more than $2.6 million.

 

To hear ShotSpotter in action, I went on a ride along with police in the Bayview neighborhood. The community has struggled to combat gun violence for years, and was the first to get the technology. I hopped in the back of a squad car in a recent Friday night. It didn't take long for the first ShotSpotter alert to come crackling over the radio.

[00:25:00]
Matt:

 

We zoomed through the streets of San Francisco, blowing through intersections. The officers hunt for the quickest route to the scene.

Officers:

[inaudible 00:25:08] right [inaudible 00:25:09] Towards in the end?

Matt:

In about 2 minutes, we get to where ShotSpotter pinpointed the gunfire, but we don't find anything. The officers ask bystanders for clues.

Officers:

Hey, boss, you hear anything like a gunshot?

 

Did you hear any gunshots at all?

 

Any cars flying out of here?

Matt:

"No," one man says, "I just got here."

Officers:

Okay.

Matt:

At this point, it's clear that we're in the wrong place. The shooting happened half a mile away, where other officers responding to 911 calls are already interviewing witnesses and collecting shell casings. We clear out.

Officers:

The ShotSpotter at 1407 Caesar that we found ...

Matt:
[00:26:00]

Calls like this one are not unusual. ShotSpotter gives the wrong location up to 20% of the time. It's especially a problem near big hills and downtown areas with tall buildings. Even when the technology does give police an accurate starting point, they often come up empty handed.

 

We dug into every ShotSpotter alert police responded to in San Francisco over a 2 and a half year period, beginning in January 2013. That's more than 3,000 calls altogether. In nearly 2/3 of the calls, police couldn't locate evidence of gunshots, and in those 2 and a half years of data that we sifted through, police made just 2 arrests.

 

 

 

[00:27:00]

One of the arrests that came from a ShotSpotter notification had nothing to do with guns. When officers responded to an alert in August 2014, they didn't find a shooter. They didn't find shell casings either or witnesses. What they found was a drunk man with an outstanding warrant. His arrest was attributed to ShotSpotter in police records. What about the other arrest? The one that involved a gun? Let's go back to the shooting you heard at the beginning of the story.

Caller 1:

I have a police captain in front of me. Yeah.

911:

Go ahead and speak to the police.

Caller 1:

Okay. Around the corner here in 1901 ...

Matt:

San Francisco police commander, Rob O'Sullivan responded to the scene that morning and interviewed the 911 caller. ShotSpotter alerted him to the location before it went out over the police radio. As O'Sullivan walked across the street, he found shattered glass surrounding a green minivan riddled with bullet holes.

Rob:

Just as I made the corner, I looked down the street, and I saw a gentleman that was ... He was actually sitting on the sidewalk, and he matched the description. It was all dark clothing.

Matt:

There was the shooter, a man named Marlon Fajardo. Rather than run away, he sat on the sidewalk in front of his house. He lives next door to the neighbor whose car he admitted to shooting up.

Rob:

More often than not, someone who's fired a gun isn't going to stick around to see what happens. More often than not, they're in a car, they're on foot, and they're running or they're driving away.

Matt:

Do you think the outcome would've been different had ShotSpotter not been installed, in this case?

Rob:
[00:28:00]

That's hard to say. In this case, the suspect sat down on the sidewalk so he made the decision not to ...

Section 2 of 3          [00:14:00 - 00:28:05]

Section 3 of 3          [00:28:00 - 00:51:01] (NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)

Speaker 1:

The suspect sat down on the sidewalk, so he made the decision not to leave.

Matt Drange:

This was an easy case for police. It was also an exceptional one. Fajardo wasn't caught because of ShotSpotter. He was arrested because he stayed at the scene of the crime.

Ralph Clark:

Our expectation isn't that every time there's a ShotSpotter alert that someone will dispatch that particular scene and actually capture a criminal with a gun in their hand, although that has happened.

Matt Drange:

 

 

 

[00:29:00]

That's Ralph Clark, the President and CEO of ShotSpotter. He says rather than catch a shooter when responding to ShotSpotter alerts, police are more likely to find gunshot victims. We found a handful of cases where that has happened. Ralph lives in an affluent neighborhood of Oakland. He keeps a ShotSpotter sensor on the roof of his home, but it almost never goes off. The rare times it does detect gunfire, Ralph says police are likely to get multiple 911 calls. But that's not always what happens. In some neighborhoods, where gun violence is more common, less than 20% of suspected gun fire is reported to police.

Ralph Clark:

That means 80 to 90% of the time, people don't call 911. That's a problem. That's a problem that we fundamentally fix.

Matt Drange:

Ralph says ShotSpotter can also play a role in helping police collect evidence that prosecutors can use to get convictions.

Ralph Clark:

It enables cops to get the dots, get out of their car. They're often times recovering shell casings, which then can lead to downstream cases being made.

Matt Drange:

 

 

[00:30:00]

Here's the catch: That rarely happens, either in San Francisco or other cities with ShotSpotter. The San Francisco DA's office was unable to find any convictions where the technology played a major role. At first, they couldn't point us to any cases at all. After weeks of back and forth, a spokesman for the office found a handful of cases where ShotSpotter played a part. But many of the cases were older and the technology only played a minor role. I went back to San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr. I ask to explain why he continues to tout ShotSpotter, despite that fact that it rarely puts police in a position to catch the bad guys.

Greg Suhr:

Anecdotally, we put ShotSpotter where we believed and/or knew where we were having disproportionate gun violence. I can't give you a concrete example, but I know it's a nice technology to have.

Matt Drange:

The Chief struggles to come up with specific cases involving ShotSpotter. He's quick to point out that in the 5 years since he took over the department, most gun crime is down. That's true. In big cities across the country, gun crime is down. But it's the same in cities that have never tried ShotSpotter.

 

I'm just trying to make sense of like, you have this technology. It's in place in more than 90 cities. San Francisco's one of them. But what concrete are we as the public getting in return for that?

Greg Suhr:

20 less homicides a year and 50% less shootings for the overall strategy that we employ that includes technology that ShotSpotter's a part of.

Matt Drange:

[00:31:00]

Right. That ShotSpotter's a part of. That's what I'm trying to separate from this thing. What can you actually point to ShotSpotter and say, "Yes. That helped us with X or Y or Z," because so far, the evidence just isn't really there.

Greg Suhr:

We have an overall strategy. Technology's part of it. We have 20 less homicides a year.

Matt Drange:

That's as far as the Chief will go. Even though there's no concrete link between ShotSpotter and the general decrease in violent crime, he believes having the technology is worth the cost.

 

While San Francisco is sticking with ShotSpotter, others are bailing out. At least 5 cities have let their contracts with ShotSpotter run out. In Charlotte, North Carolina, police plan to use the money they saved to install more surveillance cameras, a technology that's proven successful. Major Steve Willis of the Charlotte Police Department said ShotSpotter simply wasn't helping them fight gun crime.

Steve Willis:

[00:32:00]

Once we started looking at it, yes we were seeing positives in the fact that we were getting more calls created for gunfire. However, we were having a hard time being able to show that data that we had actually arrested individuals who were responsible for the gunfire in which the calls were generated for.

Matt Drange:

Charlotte wasn't alone. The city of Quincy, Washington also abandoned the technology. I went to Quincy and spoke to their mayor, Jim Hemberry about that decision.

Jim Hemberry:

My expectation was we'd have this map and we'd be able to say, "Wow, we don't have gunfire incidents over here and we don't have them here, but boy, we have a lot of them here. Now we can concentrate on patrolling that area more rigorously." That, for whatever reason, never came to fruition.

Matt Drange:

 

 

[00:33:00]

Quincy is a rural farming community about 3 hours east of Seattle. It's the smallest town in the country to install ShotSpotter. A few years ago, Mayor Hemberry and his Police Chief thought the technology could help them tackle a flareup of gang violence. And it did. Once. ShotSpotter helped police investigate what they call their own "OK Corral" shooting. It happened down the street from the police station. One night, a half dozen rival gang members got into a shootout. Police used ShotSpotter to figure out which side fired first, allowing them to recreate what happened. But that one success wasn't enough. Quincy decided to ditch the technology in late 2013, less than a year and a half after they rolled it out.

Jim Hemberry:

Ultimately, it came down to a decision of do you want to keep this system or do you want to hire another police officer? From the public's perspective, they would much rather have boots on the ground than this acoustical system.

Matt Drange:

The problem in Quincy and other cities that abandoned ShotSpotter isn't that the technology doesn't work. Most of the time, it does. The problem is there's little evidence that the technology is helping law enforcement reduce gun crime, even in cities that are renewing their contracts. We collected dispatch records, ShotSpotter alert data, and thousands of pages of police records for more than 2 dozen cities around the country. A clear pattern emerged: lots of calls but few results. In Milwaukee and Kansas City, for example, police spent thousands of hours responding to ShotSpotter alerts, yet they made arrests only about 1% of the time. ShotSpotter claims its data has been accepted by courts as evidence in 17 states. But when I spoke with prosecutors around the country, they told me ShotSpotter usually plays a minor role in closing cases.

 

At this point, you might be thinking, "How does ShotSpotter continue selling its technology with so few tangible results?" A lot of it has to do with effective marketing.

Speaker 7:

It's time to fight back with a proven force multiplier that's operationally effective and cost-effective. It's time to fight back with ShotSpotter.

Matt Drange:

The company produces sophisticated promotional videos, like the one that included the San Francisco Police Chief. The ads feature confidence-inspiring phrases and promise results such as "better community relations" and "enhanced situational awareness."

[00:35:00]
Speaker 7:

 

ShotSpotter. The critical first step in stopping gun violence.

Matt Drange:

But those results are hard to measure. I asked ShotSpotter CEO Ralph Clark to explain the technology's value. He wasn't armed with hard numbers or specific cases. Instead, he spoke more generally about ShotSpotter's role in violent neighborhoods, where sensors detect gunfire daily.

Ralph Clark:

What we're about is, in our highest and best use, we say of our system, is to provide a higher level of service to under-served communities around the issues of gun violence. Show up, be present, get at it, knock on doors, ask if people are okay. That's huge.

Matt Drange:

Another reason for ShotSpotter's dominance: The company controls its image by preventing data from being released to the public. This includes even basic information about when and where gunshots are fired.

Ralph Clark:

We own the data, and we license the data on an annual subscription basis to the agency.

[00:36:00]
Matt Drange:

 

Most police departments that use ShotSpotter lease the equipment. This saves cities money, but it also means the police don't own the data. ShotSpotter does. When we requested basic information to map gunfire in cities, ShotSpotter fired back. The company sent out a nationwide memo to customers claiming the data was exempt from public records laws. They argued it was a trade secret.

 

From an independent journalistic standpoint, it makes it very hard to measure or quantify effectiveness when you can't get the data. Some cities have taken that position with their state law.

Ralph Clark:

Hey, bad for you. Really sorry about that. Good for the overall system, because now we can charge an affordable price to agencies that we otherwise wouldn't do. Because if we didn't have the big data play, we'd be charging a very different price.

Matt Drange:

 

[00:37:00]

The "big data play" Clark is talking about is a gamble ShotSpotter is betting on big time. The idea is to convince the FBI or ATF to buy its data wholesale. Clark worries that if cities release the information, ShotSpotter won't be able to sell it later. The vast majority of ShotSpotter customers have never analyzed their data to find out if the technology is helping them reduce gun crime. Instead, police departments rely on the company to tell them how they're doing. This works out well for ShotSpotter.

 

San Francisco's contract is up at the end of the year. Chief Suhr doesn't hesitate when I ask him if he plans to renew it.

Greg Suhr:

You could imagine what someone might say if all of the sudden because of money you stop doing something. This is San Francisco. We're the technology hub of the world. For us to not have the best technology available, especially when it comes to keeping people safe would be irresponsible of us to do.

Matt Drange:

[00:38:00]

It's not just San Francisco. Most cities are renewing their contracts and new ones continue to sign up. ShotSpotter dominates this market all by itself, having bought out the competition years ago.

Al Letson:

Our story was produced by Matt Drange with reporting from Ali Winston. At its current pace, ShotSpotter will have sensors in more than 100 cities before the end of the year.

 

When we come back, we'll go to a city that's looking for people most likely to commit a crime with a gun and giving them reason not to pull the trigger. This is Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.

 

 

 

[00:39:00]

From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. This week, we're looking at how data and statistics are being used to reduce the number of gun-related crimes in America. For the past 9 years, Richmond, California has experiment with an unconventional approach. Using data from law enforcement and community members, it identifies young men most likely to shoot someone or get shot and targets them. But not for surveillance or punishment. Instead, these individuals are singled out for mentoring and money. Now cities across the country, including Oakland, California and Washington, DC are considering launching similar programs. Sukey Lewis of KQED brings us this story from Richmond.

Sukey Lewis:

This is kind of a funny question. Do you have a favorite tattoo? I'm seeing all your tattoos on your arms.

LaVon Carter:

Yeah, I got my mother's portrait on this arm.

Sukey Lewis:

She's beautiful. What's her name?

LaVon Carter:

LaVern.

Sukey Lewis:

LaVon Carter's right knee bounces a little nervously as we talk. I tell him he looks younger than his 27 years.

 

You've got just the one kid?

LaVon Carter:

Yeah. I've just got one.

Sukey Lewis:

LaVon grew up on the south side of Richmond, a small city just northeast of San Francisco. And behind bars.

[00:40:00]
LaVon Carter:

 

I was incarcerated for my 14th birthday, 15th birthday. Then from 20 to 25 I was in prison.

Sukey Lewis:

How did you end up incarcerated? Was it drugs?

LaVon Carter:

It was drugs and pimping. You never seen anybody else making money any other way.

Sukey Lewis:

While LaVon was in prison, most of his friends were also disappearing from the streets of his neighborhood.

LaVon Carter:

They dead, basically. Almost all of them. I probably got 1, 2 people. Now that I think about it, 2 people that I grew up with, yeah. Everybody else is ... They gone.

Sukey Lewis:

When LaVon came home from federal prison 3 years ago, he needed to make money. He heard about this kind of crazy program that sounded like an easy way to bring in some cash.

LaVon Carter:

I'm like, "Cool. If I could get paid to do that, why not?"

Sukey Lewis:

For the city, it started as a big experiment, says Richmond mayor Tom Butt.

Tom Butt:
[00:41:00]

Going into it, I think it was kind of a wait and see. We didn't know whether it was going to work or not, but we were sort of desperate.

Sukey Lewis:

This was back in 2007 when Butt was a councilmember. That year, there were 47 homicides in the city. That's almost 10 times the national murder rate. The city was ready to try something new. DeVone Boggan, this youth mentor from Oakland proposed this: Create a city office of neighborhood safety that would seek out the young men most likely to shoot someone or get shot and give them a reason to put down their guns.

DeVone Boggan:

We're the only agency in the city of Richmond that is engaging the 1 percenters, those individuals who are the most lethal young men in our city who continue to walk our street.

Sukey Lewis:

[00:42:00]

Boggan's office pays young guys like LaVon up to $1,000 a month not to get involved in the violence that surrounds them. While some critics don't love the idea of giving money to potentially lethal young men, Boggan says his approach is a lot cheaper than someone getting shot and killed.

DeVone Boggan:

The stipend is a gesture of saying, "You are valuable. Your expertise is valuable. Your contribution to this work of creating a healthier city is valuable. Hell, we should be giving you more."

Sukey Lewis:

But Boggan says the money, which comes from private grants rather than public funds, is actually secondary. The program works because of guys like Sam Vaughn, who go out into Richmond's poorest and most violent neighborhoods every day to meet guys like LaVon where they live.

Sam Vaughn:

The first thing you do is you got to identify with them. You got to speak to something that they can identify with, something that they can acknowledge. First thing is is like, "Life sucks." Their life sucks. Just acknowledge that. I know it sucks, but it doesn't have to.

LaVon Carter:

They keep you on track.

Sukey Lewis:
[00:43:00]

For LaVon, the constant connection, the constant checking in made all the difference. A program he'd gone into for the money was now actually changing his life.

LaVon Carter:

The fact that you can just be real and tell them everything that's going on and know that they're there to try to help you, not trying to influence you to go do some dumb stuff.

Sukey Lewis:

LaVon says Sam helped him come up with a life plan and carry it out. He's got a 3-year-old son and makes good money now as a heavy equipment operator.

 

Thanks for sharing your story with me. I appreciate it.

LaVon Carter:

No problem. Thanks for having me.

Sukey Lewis:

The National Council on Crime and Delinquency evaluated the program last year and found most of the guys who made it through the fellowship are like LaVon. They're getting their lives together, and perhaps most importantly, they're alive.

 

[00:44:00]

But even with the success of the fellowship, young people in Richmond are still getting shot. After the city's homicide rate hit a 3-decade low in 2014, violent crime is up again.

Speaker 14:

Next on the agenda is open forum. Tonight we have 23 speakers.

Sukey Lewis:

At a recent city council meeting, a 15-year-old girl approaches the podium. Around her neck hang laminated photos of 3 young guys, her friends who'd all been shot in the past 2 weeks.

Speaker 15:

My name is [inaudible 00:44:25] Hughes. I'm from Richmond, California. I'm only 15 and I've been to more funerals than I can count. I'm tired of going to funerals. I'm tired of saying RIP. I'm tired of having to go on Facebook and see, "Oh, 14 years old. Dead. Oh, dead behind the school. Dead in the freeway." It's crazy. Enough is enough. Somebody got to say something, because if they're not, I will.

Sukey Lewis:
[00:45:00]

Richmond police say they are responding to the violence by putting more patrols on the streets. But Captain Mark Gagan says law enforcement can't do it alone.

Mark Gagan:

People should look to the police for some answers, but we also need the community, the nonprofits, the faith-based community, everybody to be there with us.

Sukey Lewis:

DeVone Boggan says the Office of Neighborhood Safety constantly has to adapt to changes on the street. Right now, he's seeing younger victims and shooters. He says reaching teens is difficult because their brains simply haven't developed yet. Many are hopeless.

DeVone Boggan:

I heard one of these young men, and I think this is important, say, and I believed he meant it and believed it. Not just meant it. He believed it when I asked him, "Why do you shoot?" "Because when I do, I matter."

Sukey Lewis:

That's the challenge to guys like Sam, who regardless of homicide rates or crime stats, goes out every day to try to touch these young people.

[00:46:00]
Sam Vaughn:

 

As long as there's a young person who has that option or the opportunity to live a healthy, successful life and he's making decisions that can take that away from me, we need to be here and we need to be as diligent as if we had 10,000 young people that we were working with.

Al Letson:

That story was from Sukey Lewis of KQED in San Francisco.

 

If kids could be shown a path away from guns and violence, how much better off Richmond and so many other cities might be. Which brings us back to Father Bill Terry from St. Anna's Church in New Orleans. We met Father Bill at the beginning of the show when he told us about the murder board, a memorial he created for those in his community who lost their lives to violence. Father Bill is also focusing his energies on the living, specifically on young people in the Treme neighborhood, many of whom have had their own close encounters with guns. Here's Deacon Joyce Jackson.

[00:47:00]
Joyce Jackson:

 

It's an ongoing thing. My grandkids already know when they hear gunfire, hit the floor. Wherever we are. One time, we were getting the car and we had to drop down to the ground.

Al Letson:

What Father Bill and his church came up with is called Anna's Place, a program for kids in kindergarten through 8th grade.

Father Bill:

We started this program. We now have an enrollment of about 60 children. We are blessed to be partnered with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and New Orleans Museum of Art, because we use music to teach mathematics, English, composition, ecology, and physics. All of those things are found in music, believe it or not.

Speaker 19:

Desiree, what does the "F" mean?

Desiree:

Forte.

Speaker 19:

Very good. Ania, what does "MP" mean?

Ania:

Mezzo-piano.

Al Letson:
[00:48:00]

Every day after school and on Saturdays, students come to classrooms next to St. Anna's church to help with homework, take classes in entrepreneurship, and also attend a healthcare program. A lot of these kids knew people whose names were on the murder board, like 10-year-old Darielle.

Darielle:

One of them was a family member, which is my mom's boyfriend who got killed. One of them on the board is my friend's sister. She was a twin. She was pregnant.

Al Letson:

13-year-old Eamonn has been coming to Anna's Place for 2 years. He says he rarely gets into trouble, but he's seen a change in other kids who normally do.

Eamonn:

It really helps kids, and it changes their mindset. Some kids are usually just bad before they come here. After a year or so, they change. They're not as bad as they were when they came here when they first started.

Father Bill:
[00:49:00]

Think about it. If you have 60 students, now, you have a positive impact on, let's say, 30 students. 30 students each have 2 kids, so now you're talking about 60, and it becomes exponential growth of creating solid middle-class values of virtue, of independence, of self-respect, of self-reliance.

Al Letson:

Looking out over his neighborhood, Father Bill says it will probably take 10 years to see the changes he's hoping for. But he's already encouraged that he's on the right track.

Father Bill:

Every day when I get ready to go home in the evening, I get Talea or Ania or some other cute little kids that's about 3 feet tall run up to me and give me a huge huge around the waist. These kids just want to go some place where they're going to be loved, maybe pampered a little bit, but mostly given some attention.

[00:50:00]
Al Letson:

 

That again was Father Bill Terry of St. Anna's Episcopal Church in New Orleans.

 

 

 

 

 

[00:51:00]

Michael Montgomery was our lead producer this week and Taki Telonidis edited our show. Julia B. Chan produced our digital content. Thanks to the folks at KQED in San Francisco, including Sukey Lewis, Mia Zuckerkandel, Julie McEvoy, and Holly Kiernan. Special thanks to Jacob Lewis. Our sound design time is the wonder twins, my man Jay Breezy, Mr. Jim Briggs and Claire "c-note" Mullen. Our editor-in-chief is Amy Pyle. Christa Scharfenberg is our head of studio. Susanne Reber is Reveal's executive editor. Our executive producer is Kevin Sullivan. Our theme music is by Camerado-Lightning. Support for Reveal is provided by The Reva and David Logan Foundation, The Ford Foundation, The John D. and Catherine T. McArthur foundation, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and The Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation. Reveal is a co-production of The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I'm Al Letson, and remember, there is always more to the story.

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