“those cases come at a relentless pace."
January 28, 2019 1:59 PM   Subscribe

 
Oh, make sure the person you shoot isn't white!

The chances are even lower if the victims, like Little, are people of color. When a black or Hispanic person is fatally shot, the likelihood that local detectives will catch the culprit is 35% — 18 percentage points fewer than when the victim is white.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 2:11 PM on January 28 [9 favorites]


The people who are still getting killed en masse in our society are not people that police protect, or that trust the police.
posted by selfnoise at 2:12 PM on January 28 [5 favorites]


I've done some work in shooting investigations.

I realize this may be shocking to some, but the real world isn't a TV show. If my mid-size midwestern city had infinite resources for every one of our hundreds of non-fatal shootings, yes, we'd probably solve more of them. But as it happens, solving these crimes is hard and we don't have infinite resources.

A typical shooting case has very little to go on. There are people with bullet holes in them. There might or might not be some casings, or even any kind of information about where the crime scene might be. The victims typically either didn't see anything or won't tell us anything. In 2019 there's often video from somewhere. Fun note about video: sometimes you can see random people scooping up casings to fuck with the crime scene, like not even people that appear to be related to the shooting. Video is often of a quality where it would be useful at trial in conjunction with other evidence but is typically pretty useless alone.

So for example, you might have video of the shooter arriving in particular model of car, maybe with some kind of distinctive damage. You can then show that the suspect was stopped in a car that looks similar and has consistent damage. Or you might find clothes consistent with the video doing a search warrant of the suspect's house. But of course you have to know who the suspect is. Most of the time vehicle license plates aren't legible, much less good shots of peoples' faces, especially with hoods pulled up.

I know it's metafilter and buzzfeed and everything is the fault of the police. What I can tell you is that in my experience, you don't get on to the shooting investigation unit because you're a lazy slug. You get on it because you work hard and produce results in the form of criminal convictions. Every shooting in my city gets assigned to an investigator but yes, part of the investigator's job is triage. People show up at the area hospitals with bullet holes on a regular basis. They tell police they don't know who shot them or where it happened. There's no crime scene, no physical evidence, no shotspotter activation, nothing. That crime is not going to get solved.

The cases where people shoot themselves with the gun in their waistband also don't get officially "solved." An uncooperative victim also shitcans an investigation because living victims must testify in court. If the only thing the victim says is "fuck 12," moving further with that investigation is wasting resources we already don't have.

Shootings in the hood tend to be gang-related which also hurts solvability. Domestic violence and other disputes amongst family and friends that escalate into shootings result in a much better ability to identify a suspect since everyone knows each other. A rival gang member seeing the victim in an alley and shooting him results in a barebone description even in the instances where the victim does talk to us.
The people who are still getting killed en masse in our society are not people that police protect, or that trust the police.
It would be a lot worse if we weren't trying to keep a lid on it, with varying degrees of success. And the protecting that you want done here - arresting and getting convictions of shooting suspects - is going to result in POC going prison. My city is majority white and around 85% of our shooting and murder victims/suspects are POC. So I doubt you'd really consider that "protecting."

Especially because a lot of the time how we "solve" it is indirect. If I'm doing a shooting investigation I might have good information about the weapon or a suspect vehicle. I can pass that information to our gang unit. They stop the car and get the gun used in the shooting. Someone gets charged with possession of that weapon. But guns get passed around in gangs and merely putting the gun in a person's hands a month later isn't enough to get a conviction for a shooting.

Do some cases slip through the cracks when you're doing triage? For sure, but there's not a lot the cops can do about that. People don't stop getting shot just because you'd really like to put another 20 or 30 hours into a case that you're still probably going to run into a dead end with.

Anyway if you're really bothered, agencies across the country are hurting for qualified recruits. Go get hired, put in the time on patrol, and get promoted. Do some work in investigations. Maybe you'll be a superstar with a 50% clearance rate. I'm still thinking of a shooting I put a lot of hours into. I think I know who the main trigger puller was. But I can't prove it and unless and until someone finds the gun used or finds and tows a related car there's nothing more that I can think of to move that case forward further. And the victim in that shooting is the prime suspect in at least two other serious shootings that same year, but again, we have to actually prove things beyond a reasonable doubt.
posted by firebrick at 3:39 PM on January 28 [92 favorites]


The people who are still getting killed en masse in our society are not people that police protect, or that trust the police.

Since there's a lot of coverage about Baltimore in the article, it's worth noting that Baltimore has just hired Michael Harrison as superintendent. He was hired by NOPD while they were under a federal consent decree and he instituted some worthwhile post-Katrina reforms such as EPIC (Ethical Policing Is Courageous). The Washington Post has some decent coverage, New Orleans police pioneer new way to stop misconduct, remove ‘blue wall of silence’.
posted by peeedro at 3:46 PM on January 28 [7 favorites]


we have to actually prove things beyond a reasonable doubt.

Is this true? I thought there was a pretty hefty percentage of criminal investigations that end in plea deals instead of trials. Or is it different for shootings?
posted by ODiV at 4:02 PM on January 28 [4 favorites]


I'm thinking there might be quite a few people at BuzzFeed who shouldn't be getting these kinds of ideas in their heads as the pack up their desks.
posted by allkindsoftime at 4:33 PM on January 28 [2 favorites]


I'm always surprised even more people *don't* get shot. This country is just profoundly stupid about gun violence.
posted by aspersioncast at 4:38 PM on January 28 [3 favorites]


I'm always surprised even more people *don't* get shot. This country is just profoundly stupid about gun violence.

May I reiterate that last as an axiom?
posted by BlueHorse at 6:27 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


you might find clothes consistent with the video doing a search warrant of the suspect's house

About that.
posted by praemunire at 7:12 PM on January 28 [3 favorites]


Is this true? I thought there was a pretty hefty percentage of criminal investigations that end in plea deals instead of trials. Or is it different for shootings?
It's not different, but it is orthogonal to what I said. Investigators assemble a case they believe to be assured beyond a reasonable doubt. If the prosecutor's office concurs, it moves forward with charges. At that point a defendant may choose to plead innocence or guilt.

@praemunire - that's not really what I'm talking about. That article seems to be about fingerprint-style analysis of pictures which wouldn't even be possible with the security video we're working with. I'm talking about bringing articles of clothing into the court room so that jurors can compare those articles with what the suspects are wearing on video. This is also never the sum total of a case, which is why I said and italicized "in conjunction with other evidence." A case that would get charged in my county would look something like:

1. Shooting recorded on video.
2. Video shows a suspect wearing white and black shoes, tan pants, and a matte red windbreaker carrying out the shooting before fleeing in a black Chrysler 300 with moderate damage to the front right quarter.
3. Patrol finds a matching 300 and stops and tows it.
4. Execution of a search warrant on the vehicle recovers a firearm. NIBIN analysis matches the firearm to the weapon used at the scene.
5. A search warrant is executed at the driver's house as well as another warrant for a known DNA sample from the driver. The driver's DNA is matched to DNA from the gun. Clothes consistent with the clothing from the video of the crime scene are located inside the house.
6. A warrant on the driver's cell phone records show that his cell pinged off the tower covering the crime scene at the time of the shooting. A warrant on the phone itself will be done but it's unlikely that we're able to get inside the phone.

All of that gets presented to the jury at the trial. The whole process takes dozens of hours of work put in by patrol, investigators, crime lab, and prosecutors. DNA results take months to get back from the state lab. NIBIN analysis is pretty quick. Fun facts:

Casings almost never pick up DNA or prints. If a case is going to trial we always have every single casing from the scene processed and there's essentially never DNA on any of them. Defense will often try to use this to create doubt. Barring access to the actual contents of the phone we can't show precise phone location with just tower data, just an arc of space it had to have been in. This is also why 911 cell phone calls have such horrendous location data, if you've ever seen that bit on the Colbert report.
posted by firebrick at 9:55 PM on January 28 [14 favorites]


That article seems to be about fingerprint-style analysis of pictures which wouldn't even be possible with the security video we're working with. I'm talking about bringing articles of clothing into the court room so that jurors can compare those articles with what the suspects are wearing on video.

That's not...actually better?
posted by praemunire at 12:30 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


So aside from putting the phrase "in conjunction with other evidence" in italics and then repeating it with additional context is there anything I can do to further bring it to your attention? Is it your position that photographic and video evidence has no place in criminal prosecution? What position, if any, are you actually advancing? Or is it the case - as it increasingly seems here - that you have no goal other than generalized skepticism of any and all police actions without any actual constructive end?
posted by firebrick at 2:27 AM on January 29 [13 favorites]


I want to thank firebrick for sharing their perspective in this thread and frankly I found “clothes consistent with the video” to be completely clear phrasing; I’m also struggling to see what that has to do with a dubious forensic technique invented by the FBI?
posted by chappell, ambrose at 6:00 AM on January 29 [5 favorites]


The Washington Post covered many aspects of this issue in a long 2018 series:

Where killings go unsolved
The Post has mapped more than 52,000 homicides in major American cities over the past decade and found that across the country, there are areas where murder is common but arrests are rare.

An unequal justice
In the past decade, nearly 26,000 murders have gone without an arrest in major American cities. Of those, more than 18,600 of the victims — almost three‑quarters — were black.

Buried under bodies
Even with murder rates falling, big-city detectives face daunting caseloads. For many, new homicides are coming in faster than detectives can solve them.

‘Ain’t nobody been locked up. And they ain’t trying to solve nothing.’
More than 2,000 people will be shot in Chicago this year. Most will live, but most of their shooters will never be caught.

Witness to the killing
In many homicides, police believe they know the killer's identity but can't get a witness to cooperate.

In Sacramento, trying to stop a killing before it happens
A program targets young men with cash incentives to end gang-related violence.

In a home surrounded by homicide
In New Orleans, where police make an arrest in only a third of homicides, a mother lost three children to murder. Now she fears for her last.

How domestic violence leads to murder
The Washington Post found that nearly half of the women who were murdered during the past decade were killed by an intimate partner; in five cities, about a third of the male killers were known threats.

As police struggle to solve homicides, Baltimore residents see an ‘open season for killing’
Homicide rates have soared in Baltimore, but the number of arrests have plummeted. Police and community leaders say the issue has roots in police mistrust and overwhelming caseloads.

For unsolved cases lasting a year, finding the killer becomes nearly impossible
The first days after a murder are crucial. For cases that remained open after one year, only 5 percent led to an arrest.

Unsolved Homicides Database
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:04 AM on January 29 [11 favorites]


Police Make More Than 10 Million Arrests A Year, But That Doesn't Mean They're Solving Crimes, The Intercept - "Perhaps the report’s most revealing finding, however, is that such aggressive enforcement doesn’t seem to do much to improve public safety or solve crime. Only 40 percent of crime victims report their experiences to police, Vera found, and fewer than 25 percent of reported crimes are cleared by arrests."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:19 AM on February 3


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