Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Drive-By Shootings

Guide No. 47 (2007) by

Kelly Dedel

The Problem of Drive-By Shootings

What This Guide Does and Does Not Cover

This guide begins by describing the problem of drive-by shootings and reviewing factors that increase its risks. It then identifies a series of questions to help you analyze your local drive-by shootings problem. Finally, it reviews responses to the problem and what is known about them from evaluative research and police practice.

Drive-by shootings are but one aspect of the larger set of problems related to gang and gun violence. This guide is limited to addressing the particular harms drive-by shootings cause. Related problems not directly addressed in this guide, each of which requires separate analysis, include

  • gun trafficking and availability,
  • gun possession,
  • general gun violence by adult and juvenile offenders,
  • drug markets,
  • gang violence,
  • road rage,
  • assaults in and around bars, and
  • witness intimidation.

Some of these related crime problems are covered in other guides in this series, all of which are listed at the end of this guide.Problem Description

A drive-by shooting refers to an incident when someone fires a gun from a vehicle at another vehicle, a person, a structure, or another stationary object. Drive-by shootings are a subset of more general gun violence and are less common than incidents in which someone approaches another on foot and fires at him or her. Many drive-by shootings involve multiple suspects and multiple victims. Using a vehicle allows the shooter to approach the intended target without being noticed and then to speed away before anyone reacts. The vehicle also offers some protection in the case of return fire. In some situations, drive-by shootings are gang-related; in others, they are the result of road rage or personal disputes between neighbors, acquaintances, or strangers and are not related to gang membership. Non-gang-related drive-by shootings are not well researched, but journalistic accounts and police reports suggest that these constitute a significant proportion of the drive-by shootings to which police respond. Because of their prevalence, they are included in this guide, despite the dearth of research about their motivations and the lack of evaluative research showing which responses are most effective with this type of drive-by shooting. Even if a drive-by shooting problem is not patently gang-related, some of what is known about gang-related shootings may inform responses to other kinds of drive-by shootings.

† Gun violence perpetrated by other means is far more prevalent than gun violence facilitated by vehicle use. For example, in West Oakland, Calif., offenders were 10 times more likely to walk up to the intended victim and shoot him or her than to use a vehicle to facilitate the attack (Wilson and Riley 2004). Similarly, an analysis of San Diego homicides from 1999 through 2003 revealed that drive-by shootings accounted for about 10 percent of all of them (Wilson et al 2004).

Although some drive-by shootings result in the victim’s death, many result in nonfatal injuries to the intended victim or innocent bystanders. Whether the shooting is lethal depends less on the intent of the offender and more on the location of the wound and the speed of medical attention.1 The intended targets may be slow to mobilize in the face of an unanticipated attack, and their reactions may be delayed by drugs or alcohol.2 The specifics of a drive-by shooting–in which the shooter is aiming a gun out the window of a moving vehicle at a moving target, and is often inexperienced in handling a gun–mean that shots often go wild and injure people or damage property that was not the intended target.3, Deaths of innocent bystanders often receive significant media attention and result in passionate public outcry, particularly when the victim is extremely young, has a debilitating medical condition, or was shot while inside a supposedly “safe” structure, such as their home or place of worship.4

† For example, in Los Angeles, of over 2,000 victims of drive-by shootings in 1991, only 5 percent were fatally injured. Over half sustained a gunshot wound to the leg (Hutson, Anglin, and Eckstein 1996; Hutson, Anglin, and Pratts 1994).

† One study of Los Angeles drive-by shootings in the early 1990s found that the proportion of those injured in drive-by shootings who were innocent bystanders ranged between 38 to 59 percent each year (Hutson, Anglin, and Eckstein 1996).

There are no national data on the volume of drive-by shootings. National statistical databases such as the Uniform Crime Reports record the outcome (e.g., homicide, aggravated assault, weapons law violations) rather than the method (i.e., drive-by shooting). Local data on the scope of the problem are sometimes generated for the purposes of conducting research, but generally are not available on a consistent basis so that long-term trends can be tracked. What data are available suggest that large metropolitan cities with entrenched gang problems are more likely to be challenged by drive-by shootings than smaller suburban or rural jurisdictions. While smaller jurisdictions may have isolated drive-by shooting incidents stemming from a dispute between neighbors or customers at a bar or nightclub, they do not face the problems of retaliatory gang violence that characterizes the problem in large cities.

In these cities, an individual drive-by shooting is often one in a series of confrontations between street gangs with ongoing tensions.5 Attacks are followed by reprisals, which are followed by counterattacks. As a result, the same individual may come to the attention of police as a perpetrator, victim, and witness.6 Police often receive very limited information from witnesses because most drive-by shootings occur at night, happen very quickly and thus are very chaotic, and occur in neighborhoods in which gang members intimidate residents, some of whom distrust the police.