Finally, the Crime Report We Need: The ‘Natural History’ of Homicide

Last week, the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform released a report about violence in D.C. (boldface mine):

It found that a relatively small group of people — likely as little as 200 people at any one point in time — are driving a majority of homicides and shootings in the city. And the study echoes an argument that community leaders in the neighborhoods most affected by violence have long put forward: If the government and community groups can come together to reach those high-risk people, invest in them, and make intensive intervention efforts, the city can reduce homicides and help save lives.

“In Washington, D.C., most gun violence is very tightly concentrated on a small number of very high risk young Black male adults that have a shared set of common risk factors,” says David Muhammad, the executive director of the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform. “This very small number of high risk individuals are identifiable. Their violence is predictable and therefore it is preventable.”

Using interviews and data from the Metropolitan Police Department and other law enforcement and supervision agencies, researchers examined 341 homicides in 2019 and 2020, as well as nonfatal shootings that injured people in 2020. The study excluded police shootings, accidental self-inflictions, and “cases of justified self-defense.” Its goal was to establish a “common understanding of the local violence problem,” with the idea that once people can agree on why the shootings and killings are happening, leaders can tailor their solutions to the problem.

According to the study, there is significant overlap between victims of homicides and the suspects who commit them, in terms of life circumstances and risk factors. Many are involved in groups, which the study defined as a neighborhood crew, clique, or gang with varying levels of organization. Many have history with the criminal justice system, and a significant number have previously been the victim of a shooting or connected in some way to a recent shooting.

The average age of homicide victims in 2019 and 2020 was 31, and the average age of a homicide suspect in those years was 27. Muhammad said this finding was unsurprising to him — but it might be surprising to some D.C. residents….

By far, the most frequent known cause of homicides in recent years were personal disputes. According to the study, more than 20% of homicides in 2019 and 2020 came about because of a personal dispute — some kind of interpersonal conflict…

Muhammad adds that age is worth noting — because it has implications for how D.C. can tackle the gun violence problem happening in this current moment. While many point to programs for youth as a solution to violence, Muhammad says the city also needs to be extremely focused on reaching older young adults.

It’s extremely difficult engaging a 25-year-old who has seven previous adult arrests, who is an avowed member of his neighborhood clique, who’s not currently interested in services, but that is the individual we have to serve. That’s the individual we have to pour resources into,” he says.

Here’s the key figure from the report:

This is what the discussion about violence has needed and has been missing: a ‘natural history’ of violence. Who is committing it, and who are the victims. Without that, we’re left with fact-free supposition that doesn’t do much. This is a good step, now we need to see how the city responds. Given the source of the problem, more police doesn’t seem like an answer however.

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1 Response to Finally, the Crime Report We Need: The ‘Natural History’ of Homicide

  1. EB says:

    More beat police would not diminish the level of shootings and murders, but more detectives might. Either way, Chicago has the same analysis of what drives murder, and has identified 20,000 ( yes, 20,000) individuals at high risk of being murdered and/or being the perpetrator. Several outreach programs are underway, and they do reach a significant number of young men. Life coaching, referral to employment and mental health opportunities, and more are involved. But a sort of Hatfield-McCoy culture has taken hold. And beyond that, there is a feedback loop where young people live in a high-stress environment (partly due to violence and partly due to other factors like racism and family disruption) and over time become highly reactive and prone to solve problems through more violence. I have seen this in some of my (white) nephews. I can only imagine how much more fraught life is for young Black men in impacted neighborhoods.

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