After a decades-long decline, criminal gun violence has increased dramatically in many parts of the USA. Most victims survive their gunshot wounds; however, research and data collection focus primarily on fatal events. In fact, there is no official national definition of a nonfatal shooting incident, nor a repository of these data. This definitional oversight inhibits data-informed policy and practice. The current study involves two data sources: fatal and nonfatal shooting incidents recorded in an internal metropolitan police database and official Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) violent crime data. Shooting incidents in the police database were matched to incidents in the UCR data to determine how they were officially categorized and reported to the FBI. The majority (82.0%) of nonfatal shooting incidents in the UCR data were recorded as Aggravated Assault—Gun, while 16.5% were classified as a violent crime other than an Aggravated Assault—Gun. The UCR data were missing 1.5% of the nonfatal shooting incidents documented by the police database. Almost four-fifths (79.7%) of all Aggravated Assault—Gun incidents in the UCR data did not meet the suggested definition of a nonfatal shooting incident. Overall, official crime statistics are not a good data source for nonfatal shooting incidents. A holistic response to criminal gun violence requires comprehensive, valid, and reliable data collection on all shooting incidents, especially those incidents in which a person is injured by gunfire. Establishing a national definition for a nonfatal shooting incident is the first important step toward effective gun violence prevention and reduction.
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Without belaboring the drawbacks of the UCR (see Strom & Smith, 8), it is enough to say that the FBI created the NIBRS to address the weaknesses of the UCR. In 2016, the FBI announced that it would sunset the UCR Summary Reporting System on January 1, 2021, and transition to the exclusive use of the NIBRS.
While death by suicide and suicide attempts are classified as gun violence, they are not considered criminal incidents. So they are not the focus of the criminal justice system. No valuation in this manuscript of the importance of one type of gun violence over another should be implied.
For this study, each nonfatal shooting victim was still alive when the data were extracted and analyzed. UCR and NIBRS classification policy dictates that incidents in which the victim initially survives but later dies from gunshot wound-related injuries should be reclassified from the original crime type to a homicide. This reclassification can occur days, weeks, or years after the original incident date. Homicides are recorded as occurring on the date of death.
The 2020 national homicide rate was not available as of this writing. As suggested by the provisional number given above, however, it is expected to increase to more than six per 100,000 people.
This data collection is distinct from the federally required UCR/NIBRS crime reporting process.
While most gunshot wounds are serious wounds and require medical attention, it is possible that an individual may not seek formal medical attention for a minor gunshot wound; therefore, the IMPD would not be aware of the incident.
IMPD changed its records management system in June 2019. This change affected how official crime statistics were captured and reported to the FBI going forward. The reliability of data before and after the change could not be determined, thereby limiting the data source to a less traditional time construct.
This figure includes the full-year data for 2019. The analysis included incidents through May 31, 2019, only.
One of these turned out to have a case number with transposed digits, the result of a clerical error. Three others were found to be artifacts of the reporting methodology. That is, these are cases in which the victim did not die on the same day the incident occurred and/or the incident was ruled a homicide at a later date (see footnote i). The IMPD Shooting Database is continually updated; however, once UCR data are reported, they are not updated. The remaining two incidents (0.4% of fatal shooting incidents) were missing from the UCR file.
Nineteen incidents in the IMPD Shooting Database had duplicate records in the UCR file. In each instance, there was a correct classification of the incident according to the Hierarchy Rule and a second, incorrect classification of the incident. The incorrect duplicate entries were excluded from the analysis.
To pistol-whip is to hit or strike someone with a firearm, i.e., use a firearm as a blunt object rather than fire it.
Robbery includes Attempted and Armed.
These incidents were classified correctly according to the UCR Hierarchy Rule.
In June 2021, the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Advisory Police Board recommended two changes to the NIBRS to facilitate capturing nonfatal shooting victims. The first would add gunshot wound as an injury category for victims; the second would capture whether a firearm was discharged and the intent of the shooter (intentional, accidental, during the commission of a crime (Parker, 2021).
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The author thanks the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department for their partnership and for providing access to the data.
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Hipple, N.K. Towards a National Definition and Database for Nonfatal Shooting Incidents. J Urban Health 99, 361–372 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11524-022-00638-2