|A glimpse at homicide suspects in D.C.|
The District’s most severely wounded gunshot survivors — those with head and spinal cord injuries — often end up at MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital. From 2006 to 2011, the hospital kept detailed data on spinal cord injuries, which it sent to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center in Alabama.
In those years, the hospital saw a total of 240 spinal cord injury patients, 61 of whom were there because of bullet wounds. Of those gunshot victims, the overwhelming majority — anywhere from 85.7 percent to 100 percent in any given year — were African American.
This figure shows that most victims were black—in Washington, D.C., more than 90 percent of all homicide victims were black throughout the study period. Even in the cities whose populations were 70 percent or more white, 50 percent or more of the victims were black. Further, in all cities, the percentage of victims who were black increased or stayed constant over the study period. (p. 28)
As in previous years, the overwhelming majority of homicide victims in the District of Columbia between 1998 and 2000 were African-American. Of the 744 homicides that occurred during this three-year period, 685 – or more than 92 percent – involved African- American victims. The number of Hispanic/Latino and white victims was identical: 24 in each group, or 3.2 percent of the homicide total.
Of the 367 suspects arrested for homicide, 345 (94 percent) were African-American – a figure roughly equivalent to the percent of homicide victims who were African-American (92.1). In other words, the overwhelming majority of homicides in the District are black-on-black crimes. Other arrestees during the three-year period included 16 Hispanic/Latino suspects (4.4 percent), five whites (1.4 percent), and one Asian (0.3 percent).
When Absalom Jordan hears the crack of gunfire outside his home in Southeast Washington, he reacts in an instant. “You get away from the windows and get down,” the 72-year-old said. “I have learned to live with it.”
Police are listening as well. Rooftop sensors monitor his neighborhood around the clock for the distinctive bang of a gun. The inconspicuous devices have logged hundreds of incidents over the past eight years near his apartment as part of a gunfire surveillance network called ShotSpotter.
About 39,000 separate incidents of gunfire have been documented by ShotSpotter’s unseen web of at least 300 acoustic sensors across 20 square miles of the city, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. The data, obtained through a public-records request, offer an unprecedented view of gun crime in a city where shooting a firearm is illegal in virtually all circumstances.
“ShotSpotter gives you a specific location,” said Kristopher Baumann, president of the D.C. police union. “You can go there and get out of the car. You can find a victim or shell casings.”
ShotSpotter’s coverage is most extensive in the eastern half of the city. By quadrant, the network has captured 18,700 incidents in Southeast, 10,600 incidents in Northeast, 6,400 in Northwest and 1,600 in Southwest, which is primarily waterfront and contains large stretches of undeveloped industrial areas. The network has logged an additional 1,600 shootings along the edges of the city.
Weather appeared to influence the pattern. The month of February had the fewest incidents, and July had the most. Work schedules also played a role. By day of the week, Saturday, Sunday and Friday had the most and Wednesday the fewest. As did sleep: The quietest hour was from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m.
The District began using ShotSpotter in late 2005 after the FBI gave the city the opportunity to test the technology. A federal grant paid $2 million to place sensors across the 7th Police District in Southeast Washington.
“The 7th District was selected for ShotSpotter because it led the city in homicides,” said Joel Maupin, who was police commander of the district and has since retired.
The thousands of incidents logged by ShotSpotter stress one fact: Many D.C. residents can’t escape the crack of gunshots, though they have become less frequent, falling to 5,385 in 2012. The Post plotted eight years of incidents on a map of the city, using the latitude and longitude of each.
A cloud of virtual gunfire emerges, flecked by hot spots.
In Northeast, the neighborhood surrounding Clay Terrace has been subjected to 302 incidents in the five years since 2008. In 2009, the number peaked at 129. Last year, it dwindled to 17. The area is home to a public housing complex flanked by the Arts and Technology Academy and Marvin Gaye Park.
Greg Stewart, who lives nearby and serves on the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, noted the change.
“Right now, you don’t really hear complaints,” said Stewart, who said he was aware of ShotSpotter from news reports and had noticed an increased police presence in the area.
In Northwest, where ShotSpotter’s coverage is more limited, a portion of the Columbia Heights neighborhood east of Georgia Avenue between Princeton Place and Lamont Street experienced 299 incidents over the past five years. The number peaked at 99 in 2009, dropping to 46 last year.
Southeast has the greatest number of hot spots. It also has the greatest ShotSpotter coverage.
ShotSpotter has captured 329 incidents in a part of the Washington Highlands neighborhood near the 4300 block of Fourth Street SE, just north of the Maryland border.
“There were times when I was awakened by shots. Shootings are a constant thing in my area,” said Jordan, the 72-year-old who lives there and is a member of the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission. In August, a man was shot to death in front of a nearby apartment.