Prosecutors in Seattle’s King County are assembling data on shootings in the area to support a public health approach to gun violence. They hope it will help design interventions to prevent shootings.
How many people get shot in Seattle’s King County every year? It was a simple question no one could answer until two prosecutors and a data analyst spent two years scrutinizing shooting incidents, those that resulted in death or injury, as well as those that didn’t, reports the Seattle Times. The data, gathered from eight of the county’s 40 law-enforcement agencies, confirmed what police and agencies working with youth and families intuitively knew: 67 percent of this year’s firearm homicides and 58 percent of non-fatal shootings occurred south of Seattle city limits. The county is using the data to advance an emerging perspective on gun violence: that people shooting one another is as much a threat to public health as it is a problem for law enforcement. They view gun violence through a public-health lens and, for the first time, are analyzing the relationships between victims, witnesses and perpetrators of gun violence the same way an epidemiologist studies the spread of contagious disease. It’s a philosophy that’s gained traction across the U.S.
The goal is to find ways to intervene in the lives of the most vulnerable individuals before bullets start flying and prevent future violence, said Senior Deputy Prosecutor Karissa Taylor, who with Senior Deputy Prosecutor Dan Carew and Data Analyst Rafael Serrano make up the Crime Strategies Unit spearheading the gun-data deep dive. What those interventions will look like remains to be seen. Programs to prevent gun violence must be developed by community providers and public-health officials, Taylor said. The data give them a starting point. “When we started, there was no data, no sharing of information, everything was siloed,” Taylor said. The eight police departments involved in the Shots Fired Project each had different report-management systems for tracking gun violence, and had different definitions of what constituted a shooting.