A Department of Justice grant will be used to pursue and prosecute those involved in gun violence as well as study ways to stop the area’s cycle of shootings.
Pursue, prosecute and prevent. Those are the three areas of emphasis that will be addressed with a nearly $500,000 grant from the Department of Justice intended to stem gun violence in Seattle and the surrounding region.
In a statement announcing the award on Friday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said money from the grant will go toward three primary efforts: helping law-enforcement agencies trace guns used in crimes; supporting efforts to prosecute gun crimes; and funding research on preventing gun violence and injuries.
The bulk of the new funds — made available under the 2001 Project Safe Neighborhood federal initiative — will go to the Puget Sound Regional Crime Gun Task Force. The multiagency task force is focused on increasing the ability of law enforcement personnel to trace shell casings and firearms used in crimes and identify shooters, according to the statement.
A U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman said $50,000 will be allocated to eliminating the backlog of 5,000 recovered shell casings in Western Washington waiting to be entered into the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) database.
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The NIBIN, which is overseen by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), uses digital images of shell casings to link crimes involving firearms.
Emily Langlie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said the Seattle Police Department has caught up with its backlog of shell casings and that now all casings found at crime scenes in Seattle are being entered into the NIBIN within 48 hours. However, there are many other local agencies that can benefit from the network.
“Part of the money for the backlog is to allow multiple agencies to have the ability to enter in their crime guns and shell casings into NIBIN through a comprehensive training program that will be conducted in Seattle,” Langlie said.
Police in Seattle have responded to an increase in gun violence by beefing up the department’s gang unit, adding emphasis patrols in high-crime areas and teaming with the ATF to speed up the analysis of spent shell casings found scattered around crime scenes, according to Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole.
Money from the grant will also be used to help fund the salaries of a federal prosecutor dedicated to prosecuting gun crimes and a King County prosecutor trained to evaluate whether cases should be federally prosecuted.
In addition, nearly $40,000 will go to the Seattle Police Department to develop a plan for addressing gang violence, and $50,000 will be used to partially fund research into gun-violence prevention at Harborview Medical Center.
Staff at Harborview’s Injury Prevention & Research Center hope to work with gunshot victims in an “innovative hospital-based intervention and structured outreach program to prevent future firearm-related crime,” according to the Department of Justice.
“Research led by Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center shows that individuals admitted to the hospital for gunshot wounds are at a significantly higher risk of being killed, arrested or reinjured with a gun in the five years following admission,” U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes said in a statement. “This grant not only helps law enforcement identify and prosecute those who are involved in gun crime, it works to help stop the cycle of violence by intervening with high-risk individuals.”
Dr. Monica Vavilala, director of the Injury Prevention & Research Center at Harborview, said past research shows that survivors of shootings are 20 times more likely to be shot again.
The question for researchers is how to prevent the survivors from ending up back at the hospital.
‘We’re very grateful for the opportunity to launch what we think is a really important initiative which is how best to prevent future gun crimes and future injuries from gun violence,” she said.
The research will involve a randomized controlled trial in which half the hospital’s adult survivors of gun violence will receive the usual medical care and social-work engagement, she said. The other half will receive enhanced care over six months that could address employment, housing, mental-health issues and more, she said.
“We are trying to figure out an effective strategy to decrease the morbidity that these patients have and to improve their quality and quantity of life,” Vavilala said.