By Chris Casey
DENVER – Firearm-related crimes comprised 10.7 percent of all crimes involving weapons in Colorado in 2010, and slightly more than half of weapon-related criminal incidents ended in arrest.
Those are among of the findings in a crime study by the Criminology and Criminal Justice Research Initiative within the Buechner Institute for Governance. The report was unveiled this morning in the first in a series of Buechner Crime Briefings assessing crime in Colorado. More than 70 people attended the Crime and Weapons in Colorado event in the Terrace Room.
The presentation featured the study authors, Callie Marie Rennison, Ph.D., associate professor, School of Public Affairs and faculty researcher affiliate, Buechner Institute for Governance; and Lynn Addington, JD, Ph.D., associate professor, American University, Washington, D.C.; along with moderator Mary Dodge, Ph.D., professor, School of Public Affairs and faculty researcher affiliate, Buechner Institute for Governance.
Panelists invited to discuss the study were Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates, Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey and Justice Alex Martinez, Denver manager of safety and former Colorado Supreme Court Justice.
Highlights of the Crime and Weapons in Colorado report, which focuses on 2010 data, the most recent publicly available statistics from the National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS). Particular attention is devoted to the types of criminal offenses committed with a weapon, event characteristics including location, alcohol-related crimes and arrests:
- In 2010, Colorado law enforcement agencies participating in NIBRS reported 36,995 weapon-related crimes.
- Among the violent crimes of murder, rape/sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault, the crime of aggravated assault most frequently involved any weapon.
- Firearm-related crimes comprised 10.7 percent of all crimes involving weapons.
- During 2010, 1.4 percent of firearm-related incidents involved a murder.
- Most weapon-related incidents involved a single victim, and most involved a single offender.
- Slightly more than half of weapon-related criminal incidents ended in arrest (55.8 percent).
- Regardless of the weapon category, most crimes occurred in a home or residence.
- The majority of victims of crime involving a weapon in Colorado were male, white and non-Hispanic. About three-quarters of all crime involving weapons occurred to victims in the same jurisdiction in which they lived.
- The average age of victims of weapon-related violence was about 30 years regardless of the weapon category considered.
- Regardless of the jurisdiction considered, most crimes did not involve weapons.
Given the high profile of mass shootings — Monday’s shooting at the Washington Navy Yard being the latest — “I think sometimes the casual media observer thinks every crime is a firearm crime, every crime is dealing with weapons,” Addington said. “So we wanted to build the context for those weapon-related crimes.”
Study data showing that most crimes occur in a home points to the prevalence of domestic violence cases among the weapons-related crimes. “The hardest crimes to interdict are the ones involving relationships, and the data here shows, with regard to firearms violence, a lot of it is about one-on-one relationships,” Oates said.
Morrissey agreed, saying, “The underlying crime that I believe you see here is domestic violence, based on the location of these cases. … When I look at statistics like this I think about things we can do — programs or policies — to see if we can address these issues.”
Martinez said the data confirms that, generally, the greatest threat to our safety is from the people we know. Meanwhile, major tragic crime remain a threat, and Martinez said he was surprised that more than one-quarter (29.3 percent) of crimes involving traditional weapons were committed by offenders where at least one was a stranger.
“Statistical information like this both confirms some of our impressions and challenges some of our impressions,” Martinez said. “When they challenge our impressions I think they inspire us to think about those experiences differently and that definitely affects planning and policy decisions.”
Panelists talked about areas where Colorado law enforcement is succeeding — a new crime gun intelligence center, victims support networks, stiff mandatory minimum sentencing laws for violent crimes, and strong leadership of law enforcement agencies — and areas where things can improve.
Morrissey said in Colorado and nationwide the vast majority of weapons-related crimes are committed by people who can’t legally possess a firearm. In Colorado, when a felon is found with a gun, but before he has used it to commit a crime, he faces a short sentence. “I think that’s something where we could have an impact — before the felon decides to take his gun to work,” he said. Also, “we don’t have the strongest statute when it comes to people who buy guns and sell them to people who can’t have them legally.”
Rennison said it’s important to recognize within the statistics that great law-enforcement strides are being made. Improvements in crime-investigation technology, community police and public relations, and victim advocacy networks are all encouraging developments, she said. These gains mean police departments will likely learn about more crime, thus pushing crime statistics higher.
“As Chief Oates has noted he has seen a decline in crime in his jurisdiction (down 30 percent in five years) and I’m sure we’ll continue to see that,” Rennison said. “But there will also be that upward part because as you start to uncover more crime, you might see (the crime rate) going up, so it’s an interesting phenomenon.”
(Photo: From left, Callie Marie Rennison, Lynn Addington and Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates are among the panelists at the Crime and Weapons in Colorado briefing at CU Denver on Sept. 17.)