It’s an unfortunate fact of today’s society that youth violence happens every day. Living around the D.C. area it seems like every week there’s another shooting. As humans, we have a need to quantify the impact of things on our lives in order to better understand how it effects us and society. Supervisor Rose Jacobs Gibson from San Mateo County in California published a study yesterday that quantifies the effect of youth violence in their county, and I have to say I have a couple of issues with the A High Price to Pay: The Economic and Social Costs of Youth Gun Violence in San Mateo County . . .
The first section of the report, the actual quantitative stuff, seems pretty solid. Without being able to check their numbers I can’t say for sure, but their methodology sounds right.
They took the average cost of the investigation, court hearings, trial and incarceration and totaled it up to form the “Estimated Range of Costs for one Firearm Crime to San Mateo County Taxpayers for Local Government Law Enforcement Response to Youth Firearm Crime.”
That number shakes out to somewhere around $266,461 – $856,323 for adults and $577,177 – $650,305 for youths, where the first number is the minimum possible expense and the second is the maximum theoretical possible expense. These are theoretical calculated costs, not observed costs, so the actual numbers may vary.
Using records from emergency rooms, coroners, and other sources, they also attempted to quantify the expense of youth violence in terms of medical attention, lost wages, disability and “lost quality of life.”
There wasn’t a lot about how they calculated that last one (actually, I didn’t see a single word about it), so I’d take the final number with a gigantic grain of salt. What they came up with is $234 Million as the final cost of youth violence for the county between 2005 and 2009.
Based on these methods, each fatal injury costs society an estimated $6.4 million (range $3.4 to $9.1 million), and each non-fatal injury costs society an estimated $46,000. Using these parameters, the cost of the 36 fatal and 133 non-fatal firearm injuries to youth in San Mateo County from 2005-2009 will total $234 million over time.
The calculation for “lost quality of life” makes me a little nervous (because even we, the “experts,” have no idea how to quantify that). But the next bit drives me absolutely daffy.
The report attempted to say something about the demographics of these crimes: who was committing them, what ages, where were they from, that sort of thing. And they went about it in the cheapest way possible.
- Eighty-one percent of adults and 56 percent of youth incarcerated* for firearm crime in San Mateo County had been previously arrested.
- Nine out of 18 (50 percent) juveniles incarcerated* and 31 of 75 (41 percent) adults incarcerated* for firearm crime are gang-affiliated.
*These figures are based on the jail and juvenile hall population
for a single day in 2011. It is conceivable that these figures vary
considering the transient nature of the jail population.
Read that last part again. The county based their analysis of the population of violent offenders on a SINGLE DAY’s worth of data.
Crime, like everything else, has a natural rhythm. As an EMT, I know I’m twice as likely to get a call at 4 PM as I am at 8 AM while the Monday shift goes out to dinner and the Friday shift stays at the firehouse (because Friday has four times the call volume as Monday).
If the people behind the study were conniving enough they could cherry pick the day that the most youth are likely to be incarcerated and use that as the data point. Say, the day after Halloween.
The report goes on for pages picking apart the information they gained by this “snapshot” approach.
Incarceration and recidivism for firearm crime is also high and concentrated in select communities and demographics. A snapshot of the 75 adults held at the county’s correctional facilities for any firearm crime (ranging from possession to homicide) on a single day in 2011 reveals that 45 percent were Latino, 28 percent were African American, and 96 percent were male. Of the 18 inmates held at the juvenile facility for firearm crime on a single day in 2011, 67 percent were Latino, 22 percent were African American, and 94 percent were male. Both adults and youth charged with firearm crimes had a high recidivism rate; 81 percent of incarcerated adults had been arrested before, as compared with 56 percent for youth. Seventy-eight percent of the 18 incarcerated juveniles were from the three communities of East Palo Alto, San Mateo, and the North Fair Oaks neighborhood of Redwood City. While the City of San Mateo has relatively low rates of fatal and non-fatal firearm injuries, it has high rates of incarceration for juveniles engaging in firearm crime.
Again, one day’s data is driving the analysis.
In general, the report seems to do fine. The mathematical bits are of a questionable quality but are based on logical assumptions and data. The demographics and related information is based on an extremely small set of data, but that fact is pointed out and the conclusions drawn are logical.
Speaking of the conclusions, the paper has about a page and a half of recommended solutions, including increased counseling and outreach programs. In my book, worthy endeavors. But then we get to the closing bullet points.
Listed are the model ordinances and resolutions for cities and counties to pursue.
- Model Ordinance Regulating Firearms Dealers and Ammunition Sellers
- Model Ordinance Requiring Reporting of Lost or Stolen Firearms
- Model Ordinance Prohibiting the Possession of Large Capacity Ammunition Magazines
- Model Resolution Encouraging Law Enforcement to Send Letters to Prospective Handgun Purchasers
Nowhere in this report, not one single sentence, provides data to back up these recommendations. It’s as if they’ve fallen straight out of the sky. And yet here they are, the Brady Campaign’s talking points. No proof, no evidence, not a single fact to back up the claim that they will decrease youth violence in any way shape or form.
That’s when the report lost all credibility.