Tackling gun crime doesn't happen overnight – nor does it happen from just one effort or initiative.
As shown through Cincinnati's Assistant Police Chief Paul Neudigate's discussion, it takes multiple approaches: the right people, the right initiatives, the right tools, and consistent, timely responsiveness.
It can take time. But change does happen.
Join us on August 24th, to learn from ATF’s Phoenix Crime Gun Information Center Coordinator Darrell Smith and Lt Colonel Neudigate as they discuss:
- Programs, policies, and strategies that are implemented at each stage of a crime gun investigation, as well as how to bridge the gaps that are inherent in the criminal justice system
- The best practices for agencies to get the most from NIBIN, including lead categorization and prioritization
- See the results of how NIBIN has been successfully used in Cincinnati, contributing to significant decreases in their violent and firearm crime rates
Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): Your webinar is specifically about building a crime gun intelligence program, the investigative cycle and how organizations like yours “bridge the gaps” among the various organizational players who help bring criminals to justice. Tell us about the program you are involved with or have previously been involved with.
Paul Neudigate: I would like to start off talking about gun violence and how Cincinnati compares prior to discussing strategies. We have been able to keep our shooting numbers relatively stable throughout the years; we even saw reductions last year (-12% in homicides, -11% total persons shot) when most of our peer cities similar in size and demographics saw substantial increases. Even though we are seeing some success, we still had 426 individuals shot last year. As Cincinnati only has 300,000 citizens for the City proper, the number of people shot per 100,000 puts us ahead of Atlanta, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and even Chicago. As a result, we have expanded our efforts from our core strategy, the traditionally focused offender, group violence interruption efforts, which I believe have become slightly outdated.
We have been utilizing the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV) as our primary violence reduction strategy since 2007. It's loosely replicated after the Boston model where both law enforcement and social services come together to offer gang members a “way” out of the lifestyle or suffer the legal consequences; however, several things have changed for us since 2007.
When we started in 2007, we had over 2,000 individuals on our gang list. Today, we have about 750. This is due to several factors. For us, the traditional gang structure fighting over territory no longer exists; our gangs now rarely self-identify like the traditional gang structure, they are much more fluid and cross boundaries and interact with each other. Our intelligence gathering has also suffered over the past few years as proactive policing has decreased; pedestrian stops and Field Interview cards are now half of what they were five years ago. We have also seen more trigger pullers that operate solo or in small clusters than in groups or gangs.
As part of CIRV, we still conduct the traditional gang disruption/dismantling but have added a dedicated, place-based component called PIVOT (Place Based Investigations of Violent Offender Territory). PIVOT is comprised of one lieutenant, one sergeant, and five investigators that work hand-in-hand with the Gang Unit to address those chronically violent locations that facilitate gang activity and shooting violence. We have identified 23 such locations in the City of Cincinnati based on five years of historical Part I violence data. This new strategy allows us to aggressively attack two sides of the crime triangle simultaneously which has shown to produce longer lasting violence reduction than just gang cases alone.
Image Credit: Center for Problem-Oriented Policing.
As mentioned above, there has been a decrease in gang-related shooting activity, so in late 2015 we began to focus on individual trigger pullers that we knew had been involved in homicides and numerous, non-fatal shootings, but we just couldn’t make the shooting cases. This Priority Offender initiative is comprised of the CPD, FBI, ATF, DEA, local Sheriff’s Office, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The top 12 most violent offenders for the region are continually identified and all entities, especially CPD and ATF, work to build cases for Federal prosecution. We had double the amount of Federal cases adopted in 2016 than in 2015. We have developed a very strong working relationship with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. In fact, in 2016, they deputized two of our attorneys out of our City Solicitor’s Office as Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys (SAUSs) so they could prosecute more individuals on 922G and 924C violations.
Even though these three strategies, CIRV, PIVOT, and Priority Offender, are working, we are still hardly moving the needle in regards to the third side of the crime triangle, victimization. I would estimate that 60-65% of our shootings involve non-cooperative victims, witnesses, or both. As a result, we have begun turning to technology such as NIBIN and Shot Spotter to overcome our lack of cooperation.
In regard to the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN), we had one huge success that showed us the necessity to engage in ballistic evidence comparison. In early 2015, an individual, on four separate occasions, drove by one of our high rises owned by a local billion-dollar insurance company and fired numerous shots into the structure. As this happened in the heart of our downtown business district, you can imagine the angst and concern by the community and the political push to solve. We investigated for over a year, conducting numerous interviews, canvasses, etc., to no avail.
"[NIBIN and these strategies] are first and foremost about preventing future shooting violence."
Luckily, one of the investigating officers knew enough about NIBIN to take the shell casings up north and have them entered. About 11 months after the incidents, we caught a running gunning battle on video, identified the suspect, and made an arrest. A test fire of the Glock 9mm he was in possession of came back as a positive NIBIN match for the tower shootings. Subsequent investigation and interviews identified him as the suspect and he was convicted in Federal court. Without NIBIN, we would still be investigating this offense.
This one incident was enough to convince Police Administration at the time of the need to spend the necessary funding to acquire NIBIN (BrassTrax and Matchpoint) and no longer wait and see if ATF was going to be provided funding to award more systems. Since then NIBIN has become the base of our gun violence reduction strategy, and we have found that when done properly (comprehensive collection, timely entry, investigative follow-up, and proper feedback) we are obtaining multiple, significant investigative leads that are resulting in arrests and reducing gun violence. Since we went live, we have entered 4,300 cartridge cases and generated over 300 independent leads. Many of the submissions lead to multiple leads.
In regard to NIBIN, there are four key components: comprehensive collection, timely entry, investigate follow-up, and feedback for all involved. So that means all casings for every type of shots fired incident is entered into BrassTrax, strive for that 24-48-hour window for entry. In regard to investigative follow-up, this is a critical piece. There has to be oversight so that these correlations don’t let sit in a detective’s bin without follow-up. We have made this part of our weekly CompStat-like process at CPD. An investigator has 45 days from the time they received the correlation to conduct a follow-up investigation. After 45 days, they have to present their efforts to the Command Staff for review. This ensures each lead is sufficiently investigated.
"One of the reasons CPD is successful
is because the NIBIN hardware is embedded in the PD and not a Crime Lab or Coroner’s Office…"
JCH: What are the biggest or most significant challenges in managing a crime gun intelligence program and bridging the gaps/building partnerships with the various organizations you work with? How have you overcome these challenges?
Paul: I think we were able to overcome some of the skepticism specifically regarding NIBIN with the Rayshawn Herald/Queen City Tower Shooting arrest. NIBIN generated the lead that broke that case wide open, no doubt about it. Another way to overcome challenges to an established Crime Gun Intelligence program is to host the 13 Critical Tasks for all involved parties, cops, prosecutors, parole, probation, etc., so they understand how each strategy (offender, place, and technology) plays off of and complements each other to reduce gun violence.
There is no question the analysis of shell casing data is linking multiple crimes together for us. Guns being recovered are linking back to sometimes 3,4, and 5 separate shooting offenses. You are still going to have trouble with witnesses coming forward to identify these individuals as shooters and this is where everyone gets hung up on arrest numbers. They all want to know how many shootings you solved as a result of NIBIN and your strategies; my response is this is first and foremost about preventing future shooting violence, second is solving old cases. We may not be able to charge an individual with a specific shooting offense but we ardently work to build other drug and gun cases against them to get them off the street and keep them from pulling the trigger. We put pressure on these individuals with home visits, visit their mother, girlfriend, etc., to let them know they are on our list.
There are other challenges specifically with regard to the technology. One of the reasons CPD is successful is because the NIBIN hardware is embedded in the PD and not a Crime Lab or Coroner’s Office inundated with a hundred other tasks. We mandate timely entry, striving for that 24-48 hour window. We have to get these leads back into the investigator’s hands as soon as possible. I continue to hear horror stories about shell casings sitting in crime labs for months before they are entered. We are no longer at anyone’s mercy for entry. Biggest piece of advice — invest in your own hardware. We have to remember this is an investigative tool, you don’t need a certified firearms examiner to confirm each match. Very few of these correlations are going to end up in court, but the leads are going to tell you who your prolific violent offenders are that you need to focus on.
Photo Credit: Patrick Noaker
One last key area is getting buy-in from your own internal personnel: the cops on the street. We lucked out by assigning two veteran street detectives with a lot of credibility as our NIBIN specialists. Once they saw the value of collecting every shell casing and tying crimes together, they had the juice to get other units in the department to buy-in. At first, they were having to call Homicide and strong arm them to get their casings for NIBIN entry. Now they are one of the first ones Homicide calls after the scene is processed.
"We believe our strategies hold promise
as we were one of the few large urban cities to obtain double digit reductions
in homicides and shootings in 2016."
JCH: Thinking about the implementation of your program, how do you measure success? How was that success accomplished? What have been the measureable results or “success stories” from your gun crime intelligence program?
Paul: We had access to NIBIN for several years up to 2011. The program was managed by the local Coroner’s Office, which is our crime lab. As a result of the lack of use, it was pulled by ATF. So, from 2011-2016, we had no ballistic analysis. Five years’ worth of guns and shell casings sitting on the shelf. We are slowly working our way back through our inventory but current shootings always take top priority. We strive every day to make sure we adhere to the 24-48-hour best practice of collection to entry. It’s time and personnel intensive but you have to dedicate personnel to the cause if gun violence is a problem or priority for your community.
NIBIN has helped to bolster our other gun crime reduction strategies as it links the various shootings together and confirms for CPD what we have believed all along – there is a hardcore group of individuals (40-60) throughout the City that continue to engage in gun violence. We had 426 people shot last year in Cincinnati, we didn’t have 426 each pull the trigger on another person once – we have 40-60 individuals that repeatedly pull the trigger. By identifying them and the shootings they are involved in, we target them through our Group Violence Interruption and Priority Offender strategies, then follow up with going after the places that they gravitate to. We believe our strategies hold promise as we were one of the few large urban cities to obtain double digit reductions in homicides and shootings in 2016.
Successes have to be measured in many ways, not just arrests and closures in shootings. A couple of successes come to mind. A NIBIN correlation linked a gun recovered from a suspect to a shooting. The victim identified him but refused to appear before the grand jury. Investigators didn’t stop, they went out and utilized a C.I. to make additional gun and drug purchases thus getting him a several year sentence. No, we didn’t close the shooting, but we took a shooter off the street – success.
Last July (2016), a car drove past one of our police districts and opened fire with a .45ACP striking the building several times. We immediately collected the casings and had them entered into NIBIN within about eight hours. We are able to get a return back on the entry within a few hours linking those casings to a recent shooting with three identified suspects. Within 18 hours, we had made arrests on two of the three individuals on separate gun and drug charges. They wouldn’t confess to the original offense but we did not have any additional attacks on police facilities.
JCH: Many our members will likely not have a crime gun intelligence program for their agency and so maybe have not embarked on exploring how to address these “gaps” between the organizations involved in crime fighting. Putting an advisory “hat” on for the moment, how would you advise them to get started – especially if funding is limited and staff are stretched thin?
Paul: This is a tough one. If gun violence is truly a problem for your community and a priority for your agency, there will have to be sacrifices. There are some jobs/functions that will have to suffer. There has to be dedicated personnel to oversee the tasks of targeting groups, offenders, and driving the technology aspect to support these efforts. We bought NIBIN with asset forfeiture funds, I realize not all departments can do this; however, we bought it with a true regional concept in mind. We are not just entering CPD evidence, it is available for any of the numerous surrounding agencies to use. In fact, we routinely train officers from other agencies on how to do entries and allow them to enter their ballistic evidence. If you have a local PD or lab that has NIBIN, ask them about training your personnel so that you are the one responsible for ensuring there is a timely entry of casing evidence.
The other big piece — and it doesn’t cost anything but time– is relationship-building with your Federal partners and prosecutors. FBI, DEA, ATF, have to understand the collective need to focus on certain individuals and gangs as they are the ones driving the violence; not always about making the biggest drug seizure as that group may not be the ones engaging in running gun battles on the street. Prosecutors have to know the process so when you ask them to go out on a limb on a guy with a minimal record but you know is driving the violence.
Gun crime programs are not comprised of a single tactic or strategy
but a series of best practices that you can pull out of your toolbox based on the situation.
Strategies have to be evaluated on a daily basis depending on current activity.
JCH: What do you think the biggest “myths” or misunderstandings law enforcement agencies/forensics/prosecutors have surrounding gun crime intelligence programs?
Paul: I think the biggest myth, and one that politicians are always looking for, is that there is one singular strategy that works to disrupt and mitigate gun violence. For years, we put our eggs solely in the Group Violence Interruption basket as the sole response to gang and gun violence. Engaging in anything but that clearly defined process was not sanctioned and when shootings went up it was because you “weren’t doing it right." Gun crime programs are not comprised of a single tactic or strategy but a series of best practices that you can pull out of your toolbox based on the situation. Strategies have to be evaluated on a daily basis depending on current activity.
However, saying that, NIBIN is a core strategy that is helping us to link cases together to know who to target. I should throw a plug in for the ATF’s NNCTC (NIBIN National Correlation Training Center). They have been invaluable with reviewing our entries and sending back verifiable leads, thus saving us personnel and time on doing the comparisons. We are only responsible for the entries. If you are currently utilizing NIBIN, I would push hard on the ATF for inclusion. They are exploring the possibilities of expanding the program and I encourage you to make your voice heard.
Once again, the biggest myth to dispel regarding CGIC is that arrests will increase. If anything, ours have declined because we are much more focused on specific individuals and/or gangs and bringing forth substantial charges. Don’t evaluate your program on how many arrests you generate and guns you seize but on whether you reduce your shooting numbers – that’s what the community cares about.
I think a big takeaway for everyone is that policing and violence reduction
is much more strategically focused than it’s ever been.
It’s not about sheer numbers of arrests
but arresting the right individuals to have an impact on the streets.
JCH: A large number of our readers and subscribers are in law enforcement, but we have representation from all parts of the justice arena. Can you share some specifics of what different types of justice professionals or first responders will gain by attending your webinar? What skills or new knowledge will they gain that they can immediately use the next day on the job?
Paul: I think a big takeaway for everyone is that policing and violence reduction is much more strategically focused than it’s ever been. It’s not about sheer numbers of arrests but arresting the right individuals to have an impact on the streets. This benefits the community in two ways, we are removing those responsible for the extreme violence and not damaging police-community relations by appearing heavy handed and engaging in a zero-tolerance effort like many years ago.
It’s also important for everyone to understand that we now treat all incidents of gunfire as a priority, it no longer means there has to be a body attached. If someone shot a stop sign and there are shell casings, I want our Fire Department, our Public Services Department to notify us so we can respond and collect those casings and document the circumstances.