GunStat shifts officials' targets

Mayor hopes focus on gun crimes can prevent murders

Confronting Crime

August 05, 2007|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,Sun reporter

In his 23 years, Tyrone Henderson has been arrested eight times in Baltimore on gun charges - twice just this year.

And though he has never been convicted, his arrest record is drawing the attention of city officials as one of more than 300 people being tracked through Mayor Sheila Dixon's new "GunStat" project.

Designed to chronicle gun cases from start to finish - including the kinds of weapons seized, bail amounts, defendants' criminal histories and court outcomes - the three-month-old project is already revealing some surprising information about the people accused of felony gun crime.

Half of those charged for murder this year have a gun arrest in their history, Baltimore police say, and with homicides on pace to surpass 300 this year, analyzing gun defendants before they become fatal shooting suspects has taken on a new importance.

Police officials are using the GunStat data to target enforcement efforts at gun "hotspot" neighborhoods. And the U.S. attorney for Maryland, Rod J. Rosenstein, says the statistical analysis helps to identify defendants who should be considered for federal prosecution, which often carries harsher penalties.

The mayor says GunStat will also hold the criminal justice partners - courts, police and probation - accountable.

"When you have the facts and you have the information, then you can go to the respective entities and say, `What is it going to take?'" she said.

But the approach has also sparked criticism. Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy says the statistics can be misleading because they omit important details about court cases.

The head of the city police union calls GunStat "a waste of time."

"We have all of these `stats,'" said Lt. Paul M. Blair Jr., the union president. "We're talking ourselves to death. More meetings, more time wasted gathering data. It's not putting people in jail."

Once every two weeks, about a dozen police, prosecution, probation and city officials gather at City Hall to review GunStat findings.

At a meeting Thursday, they discussed tracking where the guns used in crimes are purchased. And they talked about the "priority cases" - people they hope to keep off city streets. But the focus of the meeting was the packets of statistics, which were distributed to the agency representatives.

The summary report from Jan. 1 through July 21 assesses 324 gun crime defendants (it does not include people charged with murder). Among the findings:

Henderson tops the list of most gun arrests. An additional 27 defendants have between four and six gun arrests. Nine people have two gun convictions.

The average age of a defendant is 26; the youngest is 15, and the oldest is 59. Fifty-five juveniles have been charged as adults.

Bail was set for 196 defendants, the average amount being about $452,000. No bail recommendation was made for 116 defendants, and 11 others were released on their own recognition.

Of 75 gun defendants whose cases have been resolved, about one-third were convicted or pleaded guilty. Prosecutors either dropped charges or stopped pursuing - "stetted" - the rest of the cases. The 25 sentences so far average out to about three years and 10 months of prison time per defendant.

In an interview, Dixon said that gun crimes - not just homicides - must be a priority. Referring to defendants who have multiple gun arrests, she said, "What's so startling is that we have allowed this to continue to go on and on.

"We have to be in the judges' faces, the state's attorneys' faces, state, federal, everybody and say, `Look at this person's record.'"

Henderson's history of arrests is particularly alarming to the people involved with GunStat.

His eight gun cases date back to May 1999, when he was 15 years old. None of those cases ended with a conviction, and five of them were halted by prosecutors.

A review of his court files and interviews with prosecutors shows some of the complications.

No information could be located about the two oldest cases, both attempted-murder charges from 1999. They were dropped by prosecutors at the District Court level.

In 2000, police accused Henderson of a nonfatal shooting. But the victim, a childhood friend of his, told prosecutors that they had the wrong man. That case was made inactive when the prosecutor moved it to the court's "stet" docket.

Two years later, Henderson was on trial, accused of using a handgun in a shootout that left one man dead and two others wounded.

The survivors changed their stories at the trial, Assistant State's Attorney Jennifer Sites recalled, although jurors heard their police statements from the time of the shooting. A gun found in Henderson's house was linked to the crime scene, she said.

The jury acquitted him of all charges.

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