Profile No. 24

Youth, Firearms, and Violence -- Atlanta, GA

Program Type or Federal Program Source:
Program to deter gun carrying in targeted police hotspot areas.

Program Goal:
To reduce the level of juvenile gun violence in Atlanta.

Specific Groups Targeted by the Strategy:
Juveniles and young adults.

Geographical Area Targeted by the Strategy:
Atlanta, GA.

Evaluated by:
Emory University Center for Injury Control, Atlanta, GA.

Contact Information:
Beverly Harvard
Chief of Police
Atlanta Police Department
675 Ponce de Leon Avenue
Atlanta, GA 30308
Phone: 404­817­6900

Dr. Arthur Kellermann
Emory University
1518 Clifton Road NE.
Atlanta, GA 30322
Phone: 404­727­9977

Years of Operation:

In Fulton County, GA (which includes most of the city of Atlanta), firearm-related homicide rates for 15- to 24-year-olds increased dramatically from the early 1980's to the early 1990's. Nonfirearm-related homicides, on the other hand, remained relatively stable. Firearm-related homicides during this time period accounted for nearly all of the murders in the city. Guns are readily available to juveniles in Atlanta, where it is reported that handguns can be purchased on the street for as little as $5.

In 1994, Atlanta's Project PACT (Pulling America's Communities Together) was funded by the U.S. Department of Justice. Project PACT is a consortium of Federal, State, and local agencies, and community groups designed to organize diverse community institutions and to empower them, individually and collectively, to use problem-solving strategies and tactics to create safer communities. Juvenile gun violence emerged as the top priority of this consortium. With funding from the National Institute of Justice, Emory University Center for Injury Control initiated a formal evaluation of PACT's efforts by obtaining baseline measures of the magnitude of juvenile gun violence in metropolitan Atlanta. In addition to the collection of quantitative data showing juvenile and adult firearm-related morbidity and mortality, a telephone survey of adults was conducted, and focus groups with high-risk and incarcerated youth were held to collect information about weapon-carrying behavior. Baseline data were shared with community groups, law enforcement officials, and juvenile justice officials and were used to develop the targeted interventions.

As a result of Project PACT, several Federal, State, and local agencies joined forces in a coordinated effort to reduce overall gun violence, with a particular emphasis on juveniles and young adults. The agencies involved in this initiative include the Atlanta Police Department (APD), ATF, the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles, the Fulton County Juvenile Court, the Fulton County District Attorney, the Georgia State Department of Corrections (Fulton County Probation), the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and Emory University Center for Injury Control.

I can ask an adult to put a gun down, and 75 percent of them will do it, but a juvenile will not. The juvenile will fire it at me, or in the air, or flee with the weapon. His actions are much more fearless.

-- Thay Humes
Atlanta, GA, Police Officer

The strategies for preventing gun violence among Atlanta's youth are centered on addressing each point of intervention in the "chain of events" that begins with the demand for a firearm and ends with commission of a violent crime. Three strategies were proposed to address the chain of events that lead to gun violence: (1) a reduction in the demand for guns through community education and enforcement of laws prohibiting gun-carrying by youth; (2) a reduction in the supply of guns through aggressive enforcement of laws that prohibit sale or transfer of firearms to youth and systematic tracing of guns used by juvenile offenders; and (3) effective rehabilitation to decrease recidivism by juveniles caught with weapons.

Identification of high crime hotspots

To identify the city's gun violence hotspots, researchers at the Center for Injury Control developed the Georgia Firearm Injury Notification System. This system, known as "Cops and Docs," collects data on firearm-related morbidity and mortality in specific police patrol beats and census tracts within the Atlanta metropolitan area. Firearm assault data are reported by 34 law enforcement agencies, 21 metro emergency medical centers, and 5 medical examiners in the Atlanta area and forwarded to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI). GBI organizes the data, which include fatal and nonfatal injuries by age, race, sex, weapon type, location, and circumstance. The data are then forwarded to the Center for Injury Control where they are linked with firearm-related data from the Atlanta 911 System. All of this information is then analyzed using a Geographic Information System. The Center identifies hotspots of gun violence activity at the street-block level and shares these data with Federal, State, and local law enforcement officials. These officials then use these data to allocate resources, target intervention neighborhoods, and evaluate results.

The researchers note that obtaining dual reporting of firearm assault data from emergency medical centers and law enforcement to the Cops and Docs system is a challenging task. For example, although Georgia State law requires healthcare providers to notify local authorities when they treat a gunshot injury, incomplete reporting of such injuries to Cops and Docs remains a problem. Only 60 percent of medically documented shootings have been matched by Cops and Docs to corresponding police reports. Efforts are made to relate and match records to create a complete picture of firearm injury and violence throughout the city. To meet the needs of law enforcement, the firearm assault data are collected, analyzed, and disseminated in a very short timeframe. Data are updated for weekly meetings and compiled in reports that are disseminated monthly.

Directed police patrol

APD's Guns and Violent Crime Suppression Unit (Gun Unit) was deployed in the fall of 1997 to take guns off the streets. The Gun Unit is a group of 12 officers that utilizes a nontraditional, problem-solving approach of locating and seizing illegal guns before they are used. The Gun Unit targets illegal gun carrying in the city's hotspot neighborhoods that have been identified by the Cops and Docs data base. The Gun Unit has focused its operations on three hotspot areas, one of which has shown a decline in firearm-related 911 calls. The Unit recently expanded to four additional hotspot areas. The officers in the Gun Unit watch for persons who appear to be carrying firearms. Although the officers perform investigative functions, they also confiscate guns in routine traffic stops, roadblocks, and other proactive interactions within the hotspot neighborhoods. Approximately one in seven traffic stops results in the confiscation of a firearm. APD is also partnering with Atlanta's schools to locate truants and bring them back to school and implementing a probation-police partnership to conduct probation sweeps in crime hotspot neighborhoods.

A small minority of people are responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime. We want to put an end to that, or at least raise the stakes for those who want to continue on the violent path. Were it not for the quality of doctors and emergency personnel, we would have a lot more deaths in this city.

-- Carter B. Jackson
Atlanta, GA, Deputy Police Chief

ATF's participation

The Atlanta office of ATF receives data compiled by the Center for Injury Control and the Cops and Docs notification system and works in partnership with APD and GBI to identify illegal gun traffickers. State and local law enforcement agencies recover the majority of crime guns and arrest the majority of juveniles and violent criminals in possession of firearms. The initiation of Federal investigations is based on the information obtained from debriefing the suspects and subsequently tracing firearms.

ATF's Regulatory Enforcement Unit is responsible for investigating and regulating firearm dealers and developing cases against illegal firearm traffickers involved in the transfer or sale of firearms to juveniles. This unit conducts investigations and surveillance of gun shows, which are a common source of illegal firearms for juveniles and criminals. The Pawn Desk Detail conducts surveillance and investigation of all pawned weapons. Convicted felons attempting to pawn weapons are apprehended, their weapons are seized, and they are prosecuted under Federal statutes. Unintended byproducts of requiring background checks for handgun purchases have been an increase in robberies and "smash and grab" thefts from gun stores and an increase in theft from shippers. ATF is actively involved in educating gun dealers and shippers about how to increase store and employee security.

The Center for Injury Control, as the academic partner for Atlanta's program, provides monthly reports on firearm crime and injury to the Gun Unit, all project partners, and law enforcement leadership. Researchers at the Center are conducting an impact evaluation of the program.

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