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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

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.

Factors Contributing to Drive–by Shootings

Understanding the factors that contribute to your problem will help you frame your own local analysis questions, determine good effectiveness measures, recognize key intervention points, and select appropriate responses.

Gang Membership

† Police departments use different thresholds in determining whether an event is “gang–related.” The Los Angeles Police Department applies the label if the victim or offender is a known gang member. In Chicago, however, the event must exhibit a gang–related motive such as retaliation, initiation, or turf defense. Mere membership is not sufficient for the “gang–related” classification (Rosenfeld, Bray, and Egley 1999; Block and Block 1993 [PDF]).

Although gang membership is certainly not a prerequisite to being involved in a drive–by shooting, studies have shown that larger proportions of gang members reported being involved in drive–by shootings than at–risk youth who were not gang–involved.7 While approximately equal proportions of males and females reported taking part in drive–by shootings, females were less likely to admit to having actually shot anyone, which suggests that their role in the event may have been minor or secondary.

Gang membership may facilitate involvement in drive–by shootings by placing members in risky situations–ones in which guns are present and behavioral norms often include violence.8 Gang members are more likely than nongang members to own guns for protection, are more likely to have friends who own guns for protection, and are more likely to carry guns when outside the home.9 Further, while not all gang members engage in drive–by shootings, those who do are often attracted by the opportunity to demonstrate their loyalty and enhance their group status.10

Motivations

Depending on whether the drive–by shooting is gang–related or not, motivations differ. Those that are gang–involved tend to be motivated by mutual antagonism with rival gang members, disputes over territory or turf, a desire to show fearlessness or loyalty to the group, an effort to promote one’s social status or self–image, or retaliation against real or perceived disrespect or insults.11 The desire for excitement can provide momentum for the event, making the participants restless and unruly.12 Sometimes, those involved in drive–by shootings use drugs and alcohol to rationalize their actions.

Disputes among drug dealers may also provide the motivation for drive–by shootings. Gang members and those involved in drug enterprises tend not to rely on the formal criminal justice system to resolve their disputes. Instead, they respond with their own forms of justice, often violent, to punish others for perceived wrongs and to deter future aggression.13 Drive–by shootings are one way in which gang members and other street criminals exact revenge and enhance their status. These conflicts build and retaliation tends to lead to counter–retaliation, with each side believing they are acting in self–defense.14

Drive–by shootings that are not gang– or drug–motivated tend to occur in reaction to disputes among neighbors or acquaintances, or as an escalation of altercations that may have begun in a bar, restaurant, or nightclub. Obviously, not all disputes or tensions escalate to the point of violence, and research has not yet demonstrated what distinguishes those events that do from those that do not. At the most basic level, the aggressors must have access to both a vehicle and a gun, but beyond that, these events appear to be rather unpredictable. Newspapers are replete with accounts of incidents with unclear motivations involving shots fired from a vehicle at another vehicle, stationary target, person, or group of people.

Drive–by shootings that occur as an extreme form of road rage often occur in reaction to seemingly trivial events (e.g., another driver is driving “too slow,” won’t let another driver pass, is tailgating, fails to signal before turning). While triggered by these events, the underlying motivation usually appears to be a series of unrelated stressors in the perpetrator’s life.15 The protection, anonymity, sense of power, and ease of escape provided by the vehicle lead some motorists to feel safe expressing their hostility toward other drivers.16

Vehicle and Gun Availability

A drive–by shooting’s prerequisites include access to a vehicle and a gun. Those who carry out drive–by shootings may use their own vehicle or one that has been borrowed, rented, or stolen. Because many drive–by shootings occur at night, dependable descriptions of the vehicle involved may be difficult to obtain.

When gun ownership is more prevalent, the risk of drive–by shootings increases as well. Although both juveniles and adults participate in them, most research on drive–by shootings has focused on the prevalence of gun ownership among adolescents. Substantial numbers of adolescents have owned guns at some point in their lives, although their ownership tends to be sporadic.17 In recent years, as gun possession among juveniles has become more widespread, the threshold for using guns to resolve conflicts appears to have lowered.18 Surveys of juvenile offenders have shown that over half obtained their first gun without a specific plan to do so; rather, they reported finding the gun or said a peer, sibling, or other relative gave it to them to use for self–protection.19 Those who carry guns for protection may be resistant to voluntarily forfeiting their weapons, as they fear harm from peers or rival gang members more than they fear legal sanctions.20

It is not so much the number of guns in circulation, but rather the number of people carrying them in high–risk places and at high–risk times that creates the potential for a drive–by shooting.21 Further, the number of events in which guns are actually used is only a fraction of the times in which guns are present.22 As a result, it is important to know the times and places in which guns are present, and the factors that contribute to their use.

Times and Locations

Many drive–by shootings occur under the cover of darkness, either to help the shooters avoid detection or because the precipitating events occur at night.23 Gang members tend to target rival groups at parties or lingering on the street. Not only do these people have little time to react, but also the offenders can boast about carrying out the shooting when they were vastly outnumbered.24

Wide open streets are often chosen as the preferred venue because they allow the shooters to approach without detection and to escape unhindered. Proximity to major roadways may facilitate access to and from the shooting location.25 Targets may include people on the street, those in vehicles that are stopped at a light or parked, and those who are inside their homes.26 Drive–by shootings that occur as an extreme form of road rage appear to be rather unpredictable in terms of the times and locations where they occur. Understanding Your Local Problem

The information provided above is only a generalized description of drive–by shootings. You must combine these basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. Analyzing the local problem carefully will help you design a more effective response strategy.

Understanding Your Local Problem

The information provided above is only a generalized description of drive-by shootings. You must combine these basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. Analyzing the local problem carefully will help you design a more effective response strategy.

Stakeholders

In addition to criminal justice agencies, the following groups have an interest in the drive-by shooting problem and should be considered for the contribution they might make to gathering information about the problem, and responding to it:

Asking the Right Questions

The following are some critical questions you should ask when analyzing your particular problem of drive-by shootings, even if the answers are not always readily available.Your answers to these and other questions will help you choose the most appropriate set of responses later on.

† The analysis phase of problem-oriented responses to gun violence has historically been weak. See Braga (2005) for guidance on making the analysis phase more robust.

Incidents and Motivations

Victims

Offenders

Locations and Times

Current Responses

Measuring Your Effectiveness

Measurement allows you to determine to what degree your efforts have succeeded, and suggests how you might modify your responses if they are not producing the intended results. You should take measures of your problem before you implement responses, to determine how serious the problem is, and after you implement them, to determine whether they have been effective. All measures should be taken in both the target area and the surrounding area. For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see the Problem-Solving Tools Guide, Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers.

The following are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to drive-by shootings. Process-related measures identify whether responses have been implemented as designed. These include

Outcome-related measures are used to determine whether responses have reduced the size or scope of the problem. These include

Responses to the Problem of Drive-by Shootings

Your analysis of your local problem should give you a better understanding of the factors contributing to it. Once you have analyzed your local problem and established a baseline for measuring effectiveness, you should consider possible responses to address the problem.

The following response strategies provide a foundation of ideas for addressing your particular problem. These strategies are drawn from a variety of research studies and police reports. Several of these strategies may apply to your community’s problem. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem. Do not limit yourself to considering what police can do: carefully consider who in your community shares responsibility for the problem and can help police better respond to it. The responsibility of responding, in some cases, may need to be shifted toward those who have the capacity to implement more effective responses. (For more detailed information on shifting and sharing responsibility, see Response Guide No. 3, Shifting and Sharing Responsibility for Public Safety Problems).

As discussed in the previous sections, while drive-by shootings are often gang-related, they are also carried out by people who are not affiliated with gangs and who execute a drive–by shooting during the course of interpersonal conflict. These incidents are both random and unpredictable and do not lend themselves well to a problem–oriented response strategy. Therefore, most of the responses discussed below address those drive-by shootings carried out by gang members.

General Considerations for an Effective Response Strategy

  1. Focusing on proximate causes. Given the complexity of factors driving gang membership, interpersonal violence, the facilitating influence of alcohol and drugs, and other motivations for drive-by shootings, police often feel overwhelmed by the prospect of addressing these root causes. A problem-focused approach suggests focusing on proximate causes, namely addressing those factors that make the drive-by shooting easier to carry out. For example, decreasing offenders’ mobility in traveling to and from the targeted location or reducing the availability of weapons used to carry out drive-by shootings, while not addressing the underlying motivation, can frustrate the offenders’ intention and result in a reduction of the problem.27
  2. Targeting the activity, not the individual. One of the criticisms of civil gang injunctions and other measures that target individual group members is that they can inadvertently increase group cohesiveness.28 By focusing on the activity (i.e., drive-by shootings) rather than the individual’s gang membership, police can avoid conferring additional status on gang membership. Further, community relationships are often strained by the community’s perception that police are focusing unfairly on underprivileged minorities. By remaining focused on the harm caused, rather than group membership, police can reinforce their fair and unbiased approach to crime prevention.29 Many of the specific responses to drive-by shootings, discussed below, take this approach.
  3. Understanding gang membership dynamics. Although not all drive-by shootings are carried out by gang members, a large proportion are motivated by the desire to join a gang, enhance one’s status, satisfy peer expectations, establish dominance, or exact revenge in the gang’s name. Knowledge of local gang dynamics, affiliations, rivalries, and tensions is essential to be able to understand and intervene effectively in the drive-by shooting problem.30 Specific Responses To Reduce Drive-by Shootings

Reducing Weapon Availability or Prevalence

† Responses that intensify enforcement activities, target high-risk offenders, or obtain consent to search private property must be supported by precise documentation that will protect the department from alleged civil rights violations if challenged in court.

  1. Conducting crackdowns. Enhancing police visibility and intensifying enforcement actions can effectively reduce the number of weapons available for use in drive-by shootings and other forms of violence.31 This response is also commonly referred to as directed patrol, saturation patrol, and proactive patrol.After deploying additional officers to a specific geographic area (i.e., “saturating” the area), police are directed to stop people for any offense in which probable cause exists (i.e., “directed” patrol). Most often, motorists are stopped for traffic violations to ascertain whether the person has a weapon and whether it can be seized legally.Focusing on specific people exhibiting suspicious behaviors can yield a greater number of weapons and arrests than a general strategy that does not target high-risk people or specific behaviors.32

    † See the POP Guide titled The Benefits and Consequences of Police Crackdowns (Scott 2003) for a more thorough discussion of crackdowns.

    † This approach has been used successfully in Kansas City, Mo.; Indianapolis; and Dallas; among other places (see Sherman, Shaw, and Rogan 1995 [PDF]; McGarrell, Chermak, and Weiss 2002 [PDF]; and Fritsch, Caeti, and Taylor 1999). In Kansas City, Mo., directed patrol activities using traffic stops resulted in a 65 percent increase in gun seizures and a 49 percent reduction in gun violence (e.g., homicides, drive-by shootings) versus a comparison area, without causing displacement (Sherman, Shaw, and Rogan 1995 [PDF]).

    Police can also set up roadblocks or checkpoints to identify and confiscate illegal weapons.A careful strategy should be developed to avoid claims of unlawful searches or racial profiling.33 In addition, police should try to minimize the inconvenience to law-abiding residents. Police should meet with residents and community group leaders to explain the initiative and gain their support before implementation.34 Further, officers should be trained to treat residents with respect and to clearly explain the reason for their being stopped. Community support is also vital, and thus police should meet with community leaders, businesspeople and residents whom crackdown activities will affect. One benefit to this approach is that crackdowns and checkpoints do not require complex coordination with other agencies and therefore can be implemented relatively quickly.

    Crawford (1998) [PDF]offers several recommendations for ensuring that checkpoints do not raise Fourth Amendment concerns. Among them: the purpose of the checkpoint must clearly advance the public’s interest in resolving a serious community problem; residents should be given advanced notice and signs should be posted; officers must give clearly worded explanations for the stop and should limit its duration; all cars should be stopped to diminish fear or surprise; searches should not be conducted unless the situation gives rise to one of the search warrant exceptions; and legal consult should be sought before implementation.

  2. Initiating “sweeps” targeting known offenders. In addition to implementing crackdowns at high-risk locations, police can also target high-risk people using “sweeps.” In cooperation with probation and probation agencies, police can identify people already under criminal justice supervision who have a high propensity for gun violence.35 Using the probation’s search provisions and parole agreements, teams of police and probation and parole officers can search offenders’ residences, vehicles, and persons and confiscate any illegal weapons found.36 Not only can sweeps be carried out swiftly, but also they can have a rather immediate impact on the gun violence level, although these reductions may be hard to sustain over time. Further, these searches can be perceived as harassment of offenders who are complying with their supervision’s conditions.
  3. Obtaining consent to search for and seize weapons. Parents of at-risk youth may be willing to allow police to enter their homes to search for and confiscate weapons.37 Locations likely to yield weapons can be identified through citizen information or from reports from other police units. Permission for the search is granted in exchange for a promise from police that neither the parents nor the youth will be charged or prosecuted if any weapons are found. Once the purpose of the search is explained and permission is granted, the responsible adult at the location should sign a consent form. “Consent to Search” programs are most effective when community expertise is engaged to identify locations, and when the police department places an absolute priority on seizing guns rather than prosecuting those who have them.38

    † In St. Louis, Mo., the Consent to Search program yielded a high cooperation level (98 percent of those approached gave consent for their homes to be searched) and a high gun volume (guns were seized in half the homes searched, totaling 402 guns in the first year) (Decker and Rosenfeld 2004). Also, see Rosenfeld and Decker (1996) for a sample consent form.

Identifying Situations With the Potential for Violence

  1. Tracking current tensions and past altercations. Although some drive-by shootings occur spontaneously, many are catalyzed by past altercations and ongoing tensions between individuals or among rival gang members. Some bars and nightclubs have regular customers who may clash with other peer group members; gangs involved in the drug trade may have ongoing disputes over territory or may try to gain control of a certain segment of the drug market; more general gang rivalries may escalate into lethal violence. Most drive-by shootings are not isolated events, but rather are one in a series of confrontations. Specialized gang units can be an excellent source of intelligence on the alliances, rivalries, and ongoing tensions among local gang members, but this information must be shared freely with those addressing the drive-by shooting problem.39 For those incidents that are instigated at a bar or nightclub, police can work with owners and managers to identify and intervene in those tensions with a potential for escalation. A targeted response requires knowledge about the specific people’s activities, as well as the ongoing conflicts and alliances among other groups and gangs.40 This information can also be passed on to mediators in an effort to prevent lethal violence.

    † See the POP Guide titled Assaults in and Around Bars (Scott and Dedel 2006) for ideas on how lower-level tensions can be dissipated before they escalate into gun violence.

    † Successful mediation of gang conflicts requires an awareness of the forces that can deter members from participating, and the needs and interests that must be satisfied once they agree to mediation. Jones (2002) identifies the following essential elements: 1) developing personal, positive, and trusting relationships between gang members and mediators; 2) offering “excuses” for participating in mediation that allow gang members to “save face”; 3) showing respect for the gang members and their conflict through the formality of the process and by requiring each side to listen to the other; and 4) personalizing members of each gang so that the hostility originating from group membership is less potent.

  2. Coordinating with hospitals. Drive-by shooting victims may not be identified by police and may seek medical attention on their own. When hospital emergency rooms notify police of all patients seeking treatment for gunshot wounds, police may be able to identify and intervene in situations with a potential for retaliation and escalating violence.

    † The National Violent Injury Statistics System at the Harvard School of Public Health is a national reporting system for gun-related injuries involving collaborations between the public health community and police. More information is available at http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nviss/index.htm. The San Antonio (Texas) Police Department developed a “Cops and Docs” program to foster two-way communication between police and emergency medical services. When a shooting occurs and the police do not identify the victim, an alert is sent to the hospital with a description and the suspected injury’s location. Conversely, when a gunshot victim seeks medical attention, the emergency room staff fax an injury report to police (David 1997 [PDF]).

  3. Prohibiting high-risk people from riding in cars with each other. If police can identify gang members likely to be involved in drive-by shootings, they can use a variety of legal strategies to prohibit their riding in cars with each other. For example, such restrictions could be part of probation or parole conditions, or could be specified in a civil gang injunction. Assuming police are notified when the people violate these conditions, the violation could be sufficient probable cause for an arrest, possibly intercepting a planned shooting.

    Civil gang injunctions have been used to combat gangs in several jurisdictions in southern California and Texas. In collaboration with prosecutors, police gather evidence that individual gang members represent a public nuisance. This evidence can include the people’s criminal histories, community police officers’ statements, or residents’ statements. The injunction prohibits named people from participating in specific activities (e.g., associating with other gang members, loitering in parks, carrying pagers); violations are grounds for arrest. Research on the injunctions’ effectiveness is somewhat limited and has shown mixed results, but some jurisdictions have found them to result in decreased visibility of gang members, fewer episodes of gang intimidation, and reduced fear of crime among residents.41

Making Environmental Changes

  1. Closing streets. When drive-by shootings are concentrated in a specific geographic area, closing streets that provide access to the neighborhood can reduce the ability of potential offenders to carry out drive-by shootings.

    † The Los Angeles Police Department determined that drive-by shootings were clustered on the periphery of a specific neighborhood, which was linked to major thoroughfares. They erected barriers to block the major roads leading to and from the neighborhood and supplemented them with high-visibility foot, bicycle, and horseback patrols. An immediate reduction in serious crime (e.g., homicides and drive-by shootings) was evident (Lasley 1998 [PDF]).

    These closures block entry points and escape routes, forcing offenders to take a more circuitous route to their destination and often requiring them to backtrack to leave the area. The specific architecture of the closures should specify which streets will be closed, how they will be closed, how they will be supported by patrol, how they will be monitored, and when or whether to remove the barriers. Traffic flow is a key consideration: traffic should be routed into streets that offer the lowest opportunities for drive-by shooting and other crime (e.g., avoiding gang members’ hangouts; focusing on routes bordered by open areas where the line of sight is unobstructed).42 This response is most effective when offenders are from outside of the target area, which can be difficult to ascertain given the complexity of gang turf boundaries. Given the impact of street closures on the residents’ normal daily activities, a wide range of stakeholder concerns must be addressed before implementation.43 Coordinating with first responders–firefighters, EMT’s, ambulance drivers, etc.–is essential to ensure their safe and efficient passage.

    † See the POP Guide titled Closing Streets and Alleys To Reduce Crime (Clarke 2004) for guidance on implementing this response and on the considerable effort required to address stakeholders’ concerns.

  2. Deploying response teams. The crime scenes of drive-by shootings often disintegrate rapidly as physical evidence is destroyed, witnesses leave the scene, and recollections of what occurred are influenced by discussions among witnesses and neighbors. Responding effectively to drive-by shootings not only increases the chances that those responsible will be charged, but also offers an opportunity to intercept plans for retaliation as they are created. Some jurisdictions immediately deploy specially trained response teams to freeze the scene, preserve physical evidence, and ensure that witnesses remain present for questioning and are kept separate from one another. These teams develop high-level expertise in local gang dynamics and, with the continuity provided by a permanent assignment, can identify patterns among seemingly unrelated events.44

    † The El Paso (Texas) Police Department’s Response Team noted improved cooperation from witnesses and an increase in the number of cases cleared. Arrests were made within 24 hours in approximately 90 percent of shootings. In addition, the number of drive-by shootings decreased over time (El Paso Police Department 2002 [PDF]).

  3. Creating witness incentives. Victims and other citizens who witness drive-by shootings are often reluctant to provide information to police. This reluctance may stem from a fear of reprisal, from general community norms discouraging cooperation with police, or from some planning among themselves for retaliation for the shooting.45 Minimizing the risks witnesses who want to cooperate face, strengthening ties with the community, and offering support in the form of financial assistance and temporary relocation can encourage those with information to come forward. Improving the quality of information from witnesses helps police to identify offenders and to intervene in plans for retaliation.

    † See the POP Guide titled Witness Intimidation (Dedel 2006) for more information.

  4. Implementing a “pulling levers” focused deterrence strategy. Significant decreases in the rate of gun violence have been noted by several jurisdictions that have implemented a “pulling levers” focused deterrence response.,46Targeting gang members with chronic involvement in serious crime, an interagency working group composed of police, prosecutors, and social service providers, among others, convenes groups of offenders, sets clear standards for their behavior (e.g., cease involvement in gun violence), and reinforces the message by “pulling every lever available” when standards are violated. The consequences for continued involvement in gun violence are specifically expressed, and pro-social alternatives (e.g., education and employment opportunities, drug treatment) are made available. If members of the target group are involved in gun violence, all of the members of the group are subjected to intensified supervision and other forms of enhanced enforcement. On-going communication with the targeted group makes a definitive connection between their involvement in gun violence and the consequences imposed. Responses With Limited Effectiveness

    † See the POP Guide titled Gun Violence Among Serious Young Offenders (Braga 2004) for specific guidance on implementing this response.

  5. Targeting gun traffickers. As part of a comprehensive response strategy, some jurisdictions try to reduce gun violence by targeting gun traffickers. Any effort to restrict the flow of guns into a community is generally a good idea, although such broad efforts are unlikely to have a demonstrable effect on a localized problem. The effectiveness of this response is limited by the fact that many people get their guns informally, from friends and relatives, rather than buying them from a dealer.47 However, if the problem analysis demonstrates that straw purchasers are bringing large numbers of guns into the community, a response targeting these people would certainly be reasonable.
  6. Implementing “gun buyback” programs. Some jurisdictions try to reduce gun violence by trying to reduce the number of people who own guns. Gun owners, under the promise of amnesty or anonymity, exchange their guns for money, goods, or services. While a significant number of guns may be taken off the street this way, research has shown that “gun buyback” programs do not target the guns that are most likely to be used in drive-by shootings and other violent crimes.48
  7. Teaching conflict resolution skills. While conflict resolution skills curricula are a part of effective gang prevention programs (e.g., Gang Resistance Education and Training), their usefulness is more limited with people who are already affiliated with gangs and deeply involved in the conflicts that lead to gun violence. The curricula’s limitations derive from the fact that the skills are taught out of context. The classroom setting does not mimic the typical situation in which violence unfolds–one with high levels of emotional arousal, the presence of drugs and alcohol, and other factors that alter the cognitive state of those involved.49
  8. Restricting entry to high-risk neighborhoods. If the drive-by shooting problem is severe and confined to a small area, the neighborhood could be cordoned off and all vehicles trying to enter the area could be screened, allowing entry only to residents and people with legitimate business in the area. While this response would deny access to those intending to do harm to residents, it is very obtrusive to residents and business owners and will likely receive strong community opposition. Research on this response’s effectiveness is quite limited, and it has raised serious Fourth Amendment concerns that must be addressed.

    † In 1992, the New York Police Department cordoned off an eight-block area of the Bronx, denying access to all motorists except residents, commercial vehicle drivers, those dropping off children, and those visiting church. Others wishing to enter the area were allowed to park and travel within the boundaries on foot. The checkpoint operated on a random schedule of six hours per day, three days per week. This response’s effectiveness in reducing the volume of drive-by shootings was not discussed in published research (Crawford 1998 [PDF]).

  9. Impounding cars that are not properly registered. Similar to a DUI checkpoint, police can stop all vehicles to determine whether the vehicle is properly registered and the driver is appropriately licensed.50 If not, the car can be impounded for a short time, thus denying potential offenders access to one of the needed tools for a drive-by shooting. Although only one jurisdiction has published research reporting this response’s limited effectiveness, like other responses in this section, the low yield of weapons and inconvenience to residents suggest that it does not have sufficient power to decrease the number of drive-by shootings substantially.

Summary of Responses to Drive-by Shootings

The table below summarizes the responses to drive-by shootings, the mechanism by which they are intended to work, the conditions under which they should work best, and some factors you should consider before implementing a particular response. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem.

General Considerations for an Effective Response
# Response How It Works Works Best If… Considerations
1 Focusing on proximate causes Addresses those factors that make drive-by shootings easier to carry out; frustrates shooters’ intention …responses target the tools and situations that give rise to the problem Does not address the underlying factors that contribute to interpersonal violence, gang membership, or the facilitating influence of alcohol and drugs
2 Targeting the activity, not the individual Avoids conferring additional status on gang membership; avoids increasing group cohesiveness …responses focus on the harm caused by the behavior rather than the group membership of the people causing the harm Requires a narrow focus on a specific behavior and may leave other problems unaddressed
3 Understanding gang membership dynamics Focuses efforts on the motivations and current tensions that motivate drive-by shootings …quality information on local gangs is available Requires close, candid communication between gang units and officers combating the drive-by shooting problem
Specific Responses To Reduce Drive-By Shootings
Reducing the Availability or Prevalence of Weapons
# Response How It Works Works Best If… Considerations
4 Conducting crackdowns Enhances police visibility; deters potential offenders from carrying guns; incapacitates potential offenders when police seize weapons …specific offenses, places, and offenders are targeted; its directed by crime analysis; those likely to commit gun violence drive, rather than walk Can waste time and resources if large numbers of guns are not seized; can have a negative effect on police-community relations
5 Initiating “sweeps” targeting known offenders Incapacitating high-risk offenders by removing tools used to commit violence …high-risk offenders are carefully targeted; offenders do not rearm themselves Interagency collaboration can be challenging; reductions are likely to be short term; can be difficult to agree on most-high-risk offenders; can be perceived as harassing offenders who are complying withsupervision conditions
6 Obtaining consent to search for and seize weapons Sends message that the police and the community will not tolerate gun possession; incapacitates gun owners by removing tools used to commit violence …a low-key approach is used; great care is taken to ensure that consent is truly voluntary; the department places priority on reducing gun availability rather than prosecuting those who have guns; the program is of sufficient size to ensure that the number of weapons seized will affect the crime rate Can aggravate some of the conditions it is intended to alleviate (e.g., rebellion against parents); youth may rearm themselves; will not reduce crimes adults commit
Identifying Situations With the Potential for Violence
# Response How It Works Works Best If… Considerations
7 Tracking current tensions and past altercations Allows police to identify and intervene in situations with the potential for lethal violence …information is properly organized so patterns can be identified; local gang dynamics are understood; skilled mediators are available Need dependable sources of intelligence; need to be able to respond immediately to crisis situations; may legitimize gang membership; information needs to be continually updated; can be difficult to sustain analysis
8 Coordinating with hospitals Increases the likelihood of victim identification and understanding victims’ relationships to offenders …a simple communication procedure is established; police are dispatched to hospitals when victims are not known to them Need to negotiate legal barriers to sharing medical information; could deter victims from seeking medical attention
9 Preventing high-risk people from riding in cars with each other Allows police to intervene in situations that could result in a drive-by shooting ...people likely to participate in drive-by shootings can be identified; police are notified when named people are seen in a car together Injunctions have faced First Amendment challenges for prohibiting otherwise legal activities; injunctions are difficult and time-consuming to set up; probation and parole conditions must be enforced to carry a deterrent value
Making Environmental Changes
# Response How It Works Works Best If… Considerations
10 Closing streets Controls access to targets; decreases offender mobility; increases defensible space …supported by police and citizen patrols; offenders come from outside of the targeted area Addressing the concerns of various stakeholders requires significant time and effort; the effects are likely to evaporate if barriers are removed; rival gang turf may not be clearly identified
Responding to Incidents and Increasing Sanctions
# Response How It Works Works Best If… Considerations
11 Deploying response teams Provides rapid response to crime scenes; affords the opportunity to interceptretaliation plans …assigned officers have expertise in local gang dynamics; residents trust assigned officers Special assignments take officers out of regular patrol rotation; witnesses may remain unwilling to cooperate
12 Creating witness incentives Increases the likelihood that police will identify offenders; affords the opportunity to intercept retaliation plans …community norms discouraging cooperation are addressed; expensive resources are conserved for witnesses at greatest risk Must have resources for monetary incentives and relocation; community outreach efforts require time and patience
13 Implementing a “pulling levers” focused deterrence strategy Makes a clear connection between involvement in gun violence and consequences imposed; exploits the social structure of gangs by holding the group responsible for individual behavior …a daunting array of sanctions and a tempting array of services are available Strategy based on collective responsibility may not be effective if gangs are not cohesive; interagency coordination requires significant time and effort
Responses With Limited Effectiveness
# Response How It Works Works Best If… Considerations
14 Targeting gun traffickers Assumes offenders procure guns from organized dealers   Does not focus on the sources of guns most likely to be used in drive-by shootings
15 Implementing “gun buyback” programs Assumes reducing gun ownership will lead to decreases in gun violence   Those willing to relinquish weapons are not the people likely to commit drive-by shootings; does not focus on the guns most likely to be used in drive-by shootings
16 Teaching conflict resolution skills Assumes skills learned in a classroom setting will transfer to situations with high emotional states and bystander encouragement   Classroom-based skill development does not mimic the actual conditions under which the skills will need to be applied
17 Restricting entry to high-risk neighborhoods Controls access to high-risk places   Likely to incur very strong opposition from residents and business owners; raises serious Fourth Amendment concerns
18 Impounding cars that are not properly registered Removes one of the tools needed to conduct a drive-by shooting   Likely to capture people who are not at risk of conducting a drive-by shooting; low weapons yield makes it difficult to justify the expenditure of resources

Endnotes

[1] Wilson and Riley (2004).

[2] Sanders (1994).

[3] Milkovits (2003).

[4] Sherman et al. (1989).

[5] Davis (1995) [Full text]; Lasley (1998) [Full text]; El Paso Police Department (2002) [Full text]; Sanders (1994); Sampson and Scott (2000) [Full text].

[6] Milkovits (2003).

[7] Huff (1998) [Full text]; Huff (2001).

[8] Maxson (1999); Sanders (1994).

[9] Bjerregaard and Lizotte (1995).

[10] Block and Block (1993) [Full text]; Davis (1995) [Full text]; Huff (1998) [Full text]; Huff (2001).

[11] Block and Block (1993) [Full text]; Sanders (1994); Wilkinson and Fagan (1996).

[12] Davis (1995) [Full text].

[13] Jacobs and Wright (2006); Jacobs (2004).

[14] Jacobs and Wright (2006).

[15] Mizell, Joint, and Connell (1997).

[16] Hemenway, Vriniotis, and Miller (2006).

[17] Lizotte et al. (1997).

[18] Ruddell and Mays (2003); Wilkinson and Fagan (2001).

[19] Wintemute, Romero, and Wright (2004); Ash et al. (1996).

[20] Ruddell and Mays (2003).

[21] Sherman, Shaw, and Rogan (1995) [Full text].

[22] Wilkinson and Fagan (1996).

[23] Hutson, Anglin, and Pratts (1994).

[24] Sanders (1994).

[25] Lasley (1998) [Full text].

[26] Hutson, Anglin, and Pratts (1994); Hutson, Anglin, and Eckstein (1996).

[27] Weisel and Steadman (1998); Lasley (1998) [Full text].

[28] Klein (1998); Dunworth (2000) [Full text].

[29] Fritsch, Caeti, and Taylor (1999).

[30] Davis (1995) [Full text]; Block and Block (1993) [Full text]; Jones (2002); Katz and Webb (2003) [Full text]; Braga (2005); McGloin (2005) [Full text].

[31] McGarrell et al. (2001) [Full text]; McGarrell, Chermak, and Weiss (2002)[Full text]; Sherman, Shaw, and Rogan (1995) [Full text]; MacDonald, Wilson, and Tita (2005).

[32] McGarrell, Chermak, and Weiss (2002) [Full text].

[33] Crawford (1998) [Full text]; Decker and Rosenfeld (2004) [Full text].

[34] McGarrell, Chermak, and Weiss (2002) [Full text].

[35] MacDonald, Wilson, and Tita (2005).

[36] Wilson and Riley (2004)

[37] Rosenfeld and Decker (1996); Rosenfeld and Decker (1998); Decker and Rosenfeld (2004) [Full text].

[38] Decker and Rosenfeld (2004) [Full text].

[39] Katz and Webb (2003)[Full text].

[40] Braga (2005); McGloin (2005) [Full text].

[41] Klein (1998); Dunworth (2000) [Full text]; Maxson et al. (2004) [Full text].

[42] Lasley (1998) [Full text].

[43] Clarke (2004); Zavoski et al. (1999); Lasley (1998) [Full text].

[44] Dunworth (2000) [Full text].

[45] Dedel (2006); Wilson and Riley (2004).

[46] Braga et al. (2001) [Full text]; McGarrell and Chermak (2003); Braga, Kennedy, and Tita (2002); Tita and Abrahamse (2004) [Full text]; Tita et al. (2005) [Full text]; Wakeling (2003) [Full text].

[47] Ash et al. (1996).

[48] Sherman (2001); Kennedy, Piehl, and Braga (1996).

[49] Wilkinson and Fagan (1996).

[50] White et al. (2003).

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Related POP Projects

Important!

The quality and focus of these submissions vary considerably. With the exception of those submissions selected as winners or finalists, these documents are unedited and are reproduced in the condition in which they were submitted. They may nevertheless contain useful information or may report innovative projects.

Drive-by Shooting Reduction Project, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, 1998

The Drive-by Shooting Response Team, El Paso Police Department, 2002