AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — On Tuesday, the Amarillo City Council heard a presentation on gun violence trends to better understand what’s causing it.
Ryan Shawn Herman, a Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership summer fellow, has spent the past seven weeks compiling data on gun violence reports to the Amarillo Police Department over the past 12 months.
To start his presentation to the council, he began with some context from other sources.
Herman said Amarillo is the fourth most violent city in Texas, according to one source from the FBI, behind Lubbock, Odessa, and Corpus Christi.
He also said Amarillo’s violent crime rate is about 8.36 violent crimes per 1,000 residences in the city—about twice the state average.
While the city saw an overall decrease in violent crime rates in 2021, Herman said it did see a 40% increase in homicides.
Herman also added that APD’s analyst team found a 60% increase in gun violence from 2019 to 2022 as of today, a rough estimate from their old record management system.
In Herman’s research, he looked at every gun violence case reported to APD in the past 12 months, including every time a firearm was discharged.
“About 12 months ago, the Police Department changed the way they did the record management system. They added a small modification that made it easier for police officers to denote when a firearm was discharged in a case that they were investigating,” Herman said. “This allowed us to conclude over the past 12 months, about 450 cases where a firearm was discharged.”
Herman said he was able to go through and read 450 cases of narratives and field interviews, looking through suspects and victims to really pull out some of the key trends, and pull out some interesting patterns through geographical and statistical analysis.
“That ended up being 355, over a nine-month span, ends up equating out to be about 1.2 shootings per day, which leaves us with a gun violence rate of about 1.75 shootings per 1000 individuals,” Herman said on Tuesday. “That’s higher than our murder rate, it’s higher than our rape rate, it’s higher than our robbery rate.”
He said there is no part of Amarillo that is devoid of gun violence, but there are places where it happens more often.
On the below map, the red sections show where Amarillo has a propensity for gun violence to occur, and the darker blue sections show where it is least likely. Herman referenced “cold spots” in the eastern, western, and southern outskirts of town, with north and central Amarillo being the hot spot areas where they see the most gun violence.
“When we break this down by the different quadrants of the city, the north and the west hold a disproportionate amount of this gun violence proportional to the size that they actually occupy. A majority of gun-related homicides occur in the northern neighborhood, and a majority of the gun-related domestic disputes occur in the western neighborhood,” Herman added. “When we were able to do some simple correlational statistical analysis, we see that neighborhoods that have greater gun violence also have higher unemployment, higher poverty, less homeownership, and less educational attainment.”
According to Herman, a majority of these shooting cases happen in aggravated assaults, followed by vandalism, then aggravated robbery, and finally homicide. He said over a third of all these shootings were done in a drive-by occurrence.
Out of the 355 shooting cases identified, they were able to locate 176 valid suspects, giving them a good sample size to look at shooter profiles.
“Over the past 12 months, over 50% of the shooters were under the age of 25. About a fifth of them were school-aged so 18 and younger. Overwhelmingly male, almost 90%,” said Herman. “About a fifth of them are registered in Txgang, which is Texas’ state federal identification system for gang members. And on average, most of them do have a quite colored history with APD. So an average of 10 past offenses, both violent and nonviolent, and three past violent offenses.”
Herman said shootings occur across every racial group in Amarillo. In the past 12 months, he said the majority of shooters were Hispanic, followed by Black individuals, then white individuals.
However, the demographics are different for shooting victims.
Herman said a majority of the intended victims or targets of shootings in Amarillo tend to be civilians who are not related to the shooter by blood or an intimate partnership. That is followed by property, inanimate objects as targets, and then followed by blood relatives and domestic partners.
According to Herman, in almost half of the cases where APD knows the motive behind why a shot was fired, they were motivated by a domestic dispute of some kind.
“Gun violence victims are on average more likely to be older than their shooters, and they’re more likely to be women than shooters are as well. And then shootings are equally likely to happen within racial groups as they are across them. Which kind of tells you that in Amarillo, there are no clear racial patterns that dictate why shootings happen in our city.”
In 50.6% of shootings, APD was not able to locate a motive, or suspect, and sometimes, could not even identify the victim or intended target. Herman said this is a huge gap in their knowledge and prevents them from keeping people safe.
“This, we can expect will get better with the development of the real-time crime center that’s being developed in APD,” Herman said. “But it also shows us that we have a dire need for improving the cooperation we have with our community, which will only get preceded by a better relationship between citizens and the police and citizens and their government.”
Amarillo Police Chief Martin Birkenfeld also said working on the real-time crime center will increase APD’s capabilities to more quickly identify offenders.
“That was one of the things that the report seems to indicate is that we’re moving in the right direction there,” Birkenfeld said. “But we’re moving very intentionally in building our crime center because we don’t want to either acquire technology or practices that aren’t helpful. So as we build the crime center, reports like this are helpful for us in that process.”
In 82.3% of shooting cases, Herman said they can attribute why the shooting occurred to one of four different factors, including gangs, youth offenders, drive-bys, and domestic violence.
“So in 82% of all the cases that we do have a little bit more information on, we can conclude that they are rooted in one of these four things, if not more.”
Herman said looking at the number of crimes that were committed by youth over the past five years in Amarillo, we are far below the pre-pandemic level, moving from about 2,900 to approximately 2,100 as of this year.
However, He said the nature of the crime committed by youth in Amarillo is changing.
“When we look at the amount of crimes that are committed by youth, which are of a violent nature, that percentage has gone up quite drastically since the pre-pandemic level, moving from 31% of all crimes to 39% of all crimes,” Herman said. “This kind of identifies that although maybe youths are not committing more crimes in the city, the nature of what they are trying to perpetrate is becoming more and more violent, which is both a problem for them and a problem for us as a city at large and dictates that we need to focus on them as a major lever for improvement.”
Herman said the analysis shows Amarillo has specific attributes that could be contributing to violent crime.
“It seems that we have a segregated community where a specific proportion is really locked out of a lot of social services. I think that puts a lot of pressures on families. I think that allows youth to sometimes fall into bad trends,” said Herman. “I think there needs to be a really big intervention with youth as young as possible, but also supporting our older people who are not in a circumstance that allows them to live the kind of life that they want to live.”
When asked about resources for areas with more shootings, Birkenfeld said APD will continue to focus on its neighborhood police officer program.
“One of the main things our neighborhood police officers do is build trust in that community. That means just talking to people, having community meetings, it could mean cooking hamburgers, in some cases, just whatever it takes to get the community involved and talk to us about what’s going on what things are important to them, and how we can help solve some of those problems,” Birkenfeld said.
Birkenfeld also said most crime guns come from a variety of sources, but a disproportionate number are stolen.
“So we encourage people, you know, you may carry your gun with you, but you’ve got to figure out a way to lock that up. Don’t just leave it in your car. You got to take good care of that,” Birkenfeld said. “We also want to make people aware that you know, just trading guns off to individuals, it can be hazardous because you don’t know where that gun is going necessarily. So make sure you know who you’re selling or trading your gun to.”