Happy Friday, Bulletin readers. Over the past few decades, violent crime rates have fallen, while investigative technology has improved. So you might think with fewer shootings to solve, and better tools to solve them with, police departments would be leaving fewer shooters free to strike again. But you would be wrong, as our new investigation with BuzzFeed News lays out in jaw-dropping detail. More on that story below, along with a sweep of other developments to know about.
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WHAT TO KNOW TODAY
NEW from The Trace and BuzzFeed News: The chances that police will solve a shooting are abysmally low and dropping. In cities across the country, the failure to solve violent gun crimes is leaving shooters free to strike again, fueling cycles of violence and eroding trust in police. In some departments, hundreds of cases aren’t investigated at all. Our review of more than 1.5 million incidents revealed that the clearance rate for murders committed with guns has dropped by around 20 percentage points since the 1980s — even as the clearance rate for murders committed with other weapons or by physical force appears to have improved. The rates for gun assaults have also plummeted, falling to 30 percent. And the victims least likely to have their cases solved, by far, are black and Latinx.
Contributing to low solve rates are enormous caseloads and a lack of police resources. “The case volume is mind-boggling,” a former Baltimore homicide detective told us. “You move forward with your most viable case, you pour all your energy into that, and you try and keep your head above water on everything else.” The full investigation is worthy of your time.
President Trump got a gun license without adequate vetting, according to a former New York City police officer. Ex-NYPD Lieutenant Paul Dean, who pleaded guilty in August to bribing officers to expedite applications for concealed-carry licenses, said in a court filing that several celebrities weren’t subjected to the lengthy process to obtain a pistol permit in New York City. Dean alleges that the president, along with his eldest son and former lawyer, Michael Cohen, were fast-tracked after donating to two NYPD-linked charities. Fox News personality Sean Hannity and former NRA board member Tom Selleck also got special treatment, he said.
The suspect in Wednesday’s shooting rampage at a Florida bank is a 21-year-old former prison guard trainee. Police say Zephen Xaver, 21, walked into a SunTrust Bank branch in Sebring and fatally shot everyone inside — four employees and a customer, all of them women. Police do not think he knew any of the victims. An ex-girlfriend, who met him at a psychiatric hospital six years ago, said the gunman always liked firearms and was “fascinated” with death. He was charged yesterday with five counts of premeditated murder.
The government shutdown prevented ATF agents from attending this year’s SHOT Show. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was forced to cancel two of its scheduled educational sessions at the gun industry’s largest annual conference, which kicked off in Las Vegas this week, because agents are furloughed. The ATF maintains a presence at gun shows and conventions, including the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting.
A pre-K teacher in New Jersey was fired following her arrest for threatening to “shoot up” the school where she worked. The head of the Goddard School in Elmwood Park said on Wednesday that Gina Schroeder, who had worked there for more than two years, was arrested last week after telling a staff member “one day, I’m gonna come here and shoot it up.” Schroeder added that she owned three guns. Police went to her home and seized the weapons, which were legally owned.
An Alaska hunter was sentenced to three months in jail for illegally shooting a black bear and its two newborn cubs. Andrew Renner, 41, and his son, Owen, 18, were convicted for killing the bears in their den while the animals slept last April. Along with his jail sentence, the elder Renner was fined $9,000 and his hunting license was revoked for 10 years. His son, who was 17 at the time, got a 30-day suspended sentence and his hunting license was revoked for two years. The two tried to cover up the killings, but a motion-activated camera set up as a part of a Forestry Service study captured the incident.
ONE LAST THING
A Marine Corps officer is pitching a unique alternative to the NRA’s troubled Carry Guard insurance. Chris Thobaben, who is running for state representative in Washington State in 2020, has proposed an insurance policy that could be purchased by gun owners at the point of sale, and associated with the firearm for the duration of its lifespan (even if it is resold). The plans would cover victims of violence perpetrated with the weapon, unlike the NRA’s Carry Guard insurance, which covers only a gun owner’s legal costs in the event of a self-defense shooting, and has been banned in Washington State (as well as New York) because it insures against illegal activity. “So if gun No. 11567 is used to kill John Smith, John Smith’s family is subject to receive the payout of John Smith’s life value,” Thobaben told Oregon Public Broadcasting. He says his plan has support from a leading gun reform group, as well as members of the NRA.