This is the letter I sent to Governor Polis, Senator Hickenlooper, and Congressman Neguse today. Hopefully, it will help them make some decisions.
Just like President Biden told us: No more prayers-time for some Action!
April 9, 2021
Dear Governor Polis,
I am writing you today because of the impact the shootings at the Table Mesa King Soopers in Boulder had on all of our lives. It is still hard for all of us to believe that this happened so close to home. I live in a small town just east of Boulder and know that area well. When I moved up from Colorado Springs many years ago, I attended school at the University of Colorado, and there were many times when I stopped in that store. I also worked for the City of Boulder at the City Attorney’s office and the Boulder Police Department.
I worked in law enforcement and government most of my life. In the law enforcement field, I was a patrol officer, a crime analyst, a paralegal, and a records clerk. Before working in Boulder, I was a crime analyst in Colorado Springs, and became an expert in my field as well as an expert profiler. My job was to identify the serious and habitual juvenile offenders who lived in the City in order to create an information tracking system to help solve crimes. We received grant funding and this was one of the first databases created on a computer to help track their crimes, and pass on the information to the prosecution and social services when intervention was necessary. The computer systems were limited at the time, and an analyst had to rely on all of those relationships developed for an inter-agency approach to not only help police, but also help these young offenders.
Violent juveniles or adults cannot be identified as a juvenile habitual offender or adult career criminal until after they commit many, many crimes. There is a threshold of crimes before they come “onto the radar” for police. These offenders have many predictors in the school system and the mental health field, but these reports are not easily accessible for police. Early intervention is not easily studied outside of the social services realm, and information is not often passed on to the police until it is too late. Spree killers don’t necessarily fit the profile of a career criminal because they don’t usually have a large number of arrests. It is not something police can easily make predictions and proactively solve the problem.
Although we weren’t highly publicized, Colorado Springs took great strides to prevent gun violence back in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Laws were enacted, and grant money became available for us to study the issues. Many of these laws went away in 1997, and as a result, this money dried up. Recently, money has become available through the CDC for mental health grants, but researchers are just now seeking out this money. To my knowledge, no money has been put into police efforts to help solve the myriad of problems to study and reduce gun violence since the 1990’s.
In Boulder, I worked in records and saw how the incomplete data led to many lapses in what had been collected over the years. Many reports were in a handwritten format, and there was no software to collect data from them, and they came into records in many different formats. As computer scanning became more prevalent, any changes in upgrading to new formats or changes to the systems caused data loss—because of how the data was collected. Additionally, the laws at the time prevented most data to be collected in a meaningful way. Each department differed in how they collected their information, and most records continued to be purged after ten years with few exceptions, such as unsolved homicides. As detectives and records personnel left and/or retired, the “brain trust” depleted.
According to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) from 2018 to 2019, there was a 19% decline in reported serious crimes, with 880,000 fewer people victimized in 2019. While the data that has been collected over the years shows a decrease in violent crimes, crimes using weapons are not being collected in a meaningful way. It is hard to know if this decrease is a realistic statistic.
To date, there is no national registry that links you to a firearm. The FBI, ATF, USPS, NSA, IRS, CIA, or Forest Service can’t just punch your name into a system and see what guns you own. A realistic figure of gun violence is speculative at best since the collection is incomplete.
The media’s coverage, and “rolling the footage” repeatedly—recapping the mass shootings, police making rash decisions, and unrest occurring after each incident—makes citizens become more disheartened, and believe that violent crimes have increased. Many have become more afraid, especially since the COVID-19 outbreak, and have great mistrust in the police and the System at large. Thus, the public makes rash decisions, and one of them is going out in huge numbers to buy weapons. A year of gun sales rising, and very limited gun safety education as well as background checks have put many people at risk in the future.
RAND has published studies in the past that has shown some promising results. Here are a few of their conclusions:
- Available evidence supports the conclusion that child-access prevention laws, or safe storage laws, reduce self-inflicted fatal or nonfatal firearm injuries, including unintentional and intentional self-injuries, among youth.
- There is supportive evidence that stand-your-ground laws are associated with increases in firearm homicides and moderate evidence that they increase the total number of homicides.
- There is moderate evidence that state laws prohibiting gun ownership by individuals subject to domestic violence restraining orders decrease total and firearm-related intimate partner homicides.
- There is moderate evidence that waiting periods reduce firearm suicides and total homicides and limited evidence that they reduce total suicides and firearm homicides.
- No studies meeting the authors’ inclusion criteria have examined the effects of gun-free zones, laws allowing armed staff in kindergarten through grade 12 schools, or required reporting of lost or stolen firearms.
The RAND studies made recommendations for new policy. Here are a few of them:
- States without child-access prevention laws should consider adopting them as a strategy to reduce firearm suicides and unintentional firearm injuries and deaths.
- States with stand-your-ground laws should consider repealing them as a strategy for reducing firearm homicides.
- States without laws prohibiting gun ownership while individuals are subject to domestic violence restraining orders should consider passing such laws as a strategy for reducing total and firearm-related intimate partner homicides.
- States without waiting period laws should consider adopting them as a strategy for reducing suicides and homicides.
In addition, here were their recommendations for further research and policy from 2016:
- To improve understanding of the real effects of gun policies, Congress should consider appropriating funds for a significant program of research on gun policy and gun violence reduction at levels comparable to the government’s current investment in other threats to public safety and health.
- To improve understanding of outcomes of critical concern to many in gun policy debates, the U.S. government and private research sponsors should support research examining the effects of gun laws on a wider set of outcomes, including crime, defensive gun use, hunting and sport shooting, officer-involved shootings, and the gun industry.
- To foster a more robust research program on gun policy, Congress should consider eliminating or loosening the restrictions, it has imposed on the use of gun trace data for research purposes.
The RAND Corporation launched the Gun Policy in America initiative in January 2016 with the goal of creating objective, factual resources for policymakers and the public on the effects of gun policies. Research in this area has often consisted of cross-sectional studies examining how firearm outcomes differ in a particular year across states with different policies. Many fewer studies have used more-powerful longitudinal research designs for evaluating the effects of gun laws, partly because longitudinal data on most state gun laws are not widely available and are difficult and time-consuming to construct. Therefore, as part of the Gun Policy in America initiative, RAND developed this longitudinal database of state firearm laws that is free to the public, including other researchers, to support improved analysis and understanding of the effects of various laws. RAND is making the RAND State Firearm Law Database available for use under the Open Data Commons Open Database License.
Colorado has initiated more laws regarding gun purchases and background checks, but what about our surrounding States? Is it possible for you, as Governor, to encourage other Governors to pass similar legislation and work together to solve a growing problem? Without a workable federal database, law enforcement relies solely on the information they can gather locally or through their own contacts. If Governors in our surrounding states present these ideas to their legislatures, similar to what Colorado is trying to do, we could have a significant impact on gun violence in the western states.
It would also be logistically sound if the elected officials stop repeating the old adages to their constituents who are adamantly opposed to any gun laws. There are more people outside this group voice that believe some gun laws are necessary. They just don’t have as loud a voice. If leaders would be willing to step up and create legislation for law enforcement that is based on sound federal policy and laws, perhaps they could better protect the public from future mass shootings.
Currently, it is my understanding that based on the lack of legislative non-action, there is nothing in place requiring data to be collected in the long-term at the federal and state levels. If law enforcement is to be more effective in prevention, each law enforcement department needs to collect data, save it in a usable form and forward it to CBI who can then forward it to the ATF, and/or to Homeland, and the FBI. From what I could gather in researching this topic, current laws prohibit keeping background checks for more than 24 hours at the federal level. The purchase-waiting period is only three days at this point and in most states, including Colorado, the purchase can be made even without the background checks coming through in this time period.
There is no way that this is enough time to check on a person’s background and forward it to the persons in charge of the sale. While I realize that mental health records are private, and mistrust of police is rampant right now, there should be some way that law enforcement, particularly their analysts and records keeping people, can check these records before a sale goes through. I know we cannot prevent every shooting from happening, but if we could work with more data than what we have, we could make a difference. As cities grow bigger, we can no longer rely on the old paper and pencil method employed in the past. Having said that, however, computers can’t do everything. They are, for the most part, a massive numbers-crunching machine. They don’t have all the answers at your fingertips. Crime shows on television oversimplify how we analyze a situation. People do that, not computers. There still needs to be a coordinated and inter-departmental human involvement in creating a fair and knowledgeable profile on the individuals most at risk to commit violence. By having a complete profile, perhaps police and mental health workers can get them the help they need before a violent shooting goes down.
In the past, I worked with dozens of retired and senior citizen volunteers who helped me collect the data from all police and other agencies’ reports. They dedicated their time to serve the greater good. As a result, my profiles were complete using all of the facts that were collected with their help. I’m sure that there are many people like that out there today that would be willing to help with this process. These volunteers could help their police counterparts have reliable knowledge to prevent situations that might blow up.
It all boils down to providing help, training police and volunteers, building trust in each other, and investing in a System that works. Media coverage over thoughts of defunding the police is not the solution. Media and the public need to step away from that idea and move onto a more logical solution. Police cannot do all the work, especially with limited funding. Police and community can band together and help each other. However, there needs to be a state effort to provide funds that reinvest in education and training for police and community. Community Policing and Crime Prevention programs need to be re-instated, or receive more funds if they are still active. These programs work. I have seen it. People want to help make things better for their community. It bridges the gaps and creates trust in communities once again.
Finally, we do not need to display our weapons to the world. What Congresswoman Lauren Boebert did was disrespectful, disgraceful and unprofessional. I have no issue with people owning weapons, as long as they take the responsibility for them. Not all Coloradoans want to be known to the world as “gun-toting cowboys.” We need to divest from this blatant belief that weapons, and particularly assault rifles, are the answer to all of our problems. We need to help people understand that all guns are deadly weapons, and that we can only protect each other through education, communication, and reasonable gun laws. We can save cities and the people that live here.
I have lived in Colorado for a long time. My town was recognized many times as the one of the “Best Places to Live.” I would love to see every community thrive and become a part of the solution. Perhaps, with some legislative intervention, and more Community-Based Policing, trust will return between all citizens and police. Not all police are bad people. Police cannot always predict when a mass shooting will occur, but perhaps they can provide preemptive help for these shooters before they get to this state of mind and take action on the public if we as a community take a positive stand to help them.
Thank you for your time.
Drusilla M. Tieben
Cc: Senator John Hickenlooper
Representative Joe Neguse