S3E22 / Law Enforcement in the Digital Age / Charles West, Chief Paul Neudigate, Mark Jones

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Have we entered the era of Minority Report and “true crime”? Yes… and no. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, facial recognition, and IPOs are very much part of the story, but so are paper records and microfiche. American law enforcement straddles the digital age… and the stone age.

Note: This season of American Diagnosis was originally published under the title In Sickness & In Health. 

This podcast was created by Just Human Productions. We’re powered and distributed by Simplecast. We’re supported, in part, by listeners like you.

Celine Gounder: Hi, everyone. This is Dr. Celine Gounder. I’m the host of this show, “In Sickness and in Health.” If you like our approach to health storytelling, do me a small favor. Help us spread the word about the show… if you’re on Twitter, follow us and tweet us at @ISIHpodcast. Let us know what’s your favorite episode and why. It’ll help us bring you more and better stories… on the big health issues of the day. Thanks for listening. Now… on with the show.

Celine Gounder: Welcome back to “In Sickness and in Health,” a podcast about health and social justice. I’m Dr. Celine Gounder. This season we’re looking at gun violence in America.

Celine Gounder: Just state your name and briefly explain who you are…

Paul Neudigate: Absolutely. First name is Paul, Last name is Neudigate. I’m an assistant police chief with the Cincinnati Police Department. I am currently in my 30th year of law enforcement, and I serve as one of three Assistant Chiefs, and I oversee pretty much all the operational aspects for the Cincinnati Police Department… and many of our support services, such as gangs, traffic, SWAT, Civil Disturbance, but I also am very blessed to have our Crime Analysis and Problem Solving Unit because it all plays hand in hand. Because we do consider ourselves a very evidence-based and data-driven, hopefully enlightened organization, and we would like to keep it that way.

Celine Gounder: What does that mean exactly?

Paul Neudigate: It means that a lot of our practices have already had academic review, that they are successful and that we’re not operating in a vacuum. That we know the strategies that we employ have been validated through independent research.

Celine Gounder: On this episode, we’re going to look at how law enforcement is using tech to address gun violence… and the potential solutions… and problems… this new technology creates. We’re also going to look at one key law enforcement agency… and the technology it’s forbidden to use.

Celine Gounder: The Cincinnati Police Department… where Paul Neudigate is the Assistant Police Chief… is one of the many Police Department’s across the country that has begun using ShotSpotter as a tool to fight gun violence.

Celine Gounder: Before we get into what this new technology, ShotSpotter, does, let’s do a brief recap. As we’ve discussed in previous episodes, central to gun violence reduction efforts, is whether the police can solve crimes…. Not how many arrests they’re making… but rather, whether they’re making the right arrests…. whether they’re targeting the small group of people actually responsible for violent crimes. Digital tech and smartphone apps have made us more efficient at everything from navigating in traffic and public transportation systems… to monitoring our blood sugar… from quickly finding all kinds of information on the internet… to figuring out if our food delivery order is on it’s way.  So… in the digital age, how can Police Departments use tech… to more efficiently fight crime? Enter… ShotSpotter.

Paul Neudigate: ShotSpotter is a gunshot detection system. It is the predominant one in the United States. There are some competitors, but I do not believe at this point they come anywhere close to providing the level of service and specificity that Shot Spotter does…

Celine Gounder: In Episode 18, we talked about how the Cincinnati Police Department implemented a violence-reduction program based on the work of David Kennedy. This program’s called CIRV, the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence. According to Paul, when CIRV was first implemented, it had measured results. As time passed, Paul says, the strategy didn’t keep up with the changing reality on the ground. By 2015, violence in Cincinnati had gone up.

Paul Neudigate: We really did not have a solid gun violence reduction plan in place, and as a result, we had our worst year for gun violence that we had seen in probably 15 to 20 years. We had 479 total shooting victims in the city of Cincinnati for 2015, and that’s when we knew that things had to change.

Celine Gounder: Since then, Paul says, Cincinnati has beefed up its gun-violence reduction strategy. The meat of CIRV… with its focus on the small groups of people driving the violence… call-ins… and offers of help and social services… is still going… trying to be more responsive to the needs on the ground. But in the neighborhood of Avondale, where gun violence has historically been most pervasive, the strategy included a technological upgrade. In August of 2017, the city of Cincinnati piloted ShotSpotter, a venture-backed technology out of Silicon Valley. ShotSpotter uses sensors to alert the police of gunfire without anyone needing to call 911. ShotSpotter installed 20 to 25 sensors per square mile, for three miles in Avondale.

Paul Neudigate: Once the sensors are there… they will detect gunfire impulsions. Those impulsions will get immediately transmitted back to ShotSpotter headquarters in Newark, California … where it goes through a machine algorithm to say that it is gun fire.

Celine Gounder:  After the ShotSpotter algorithm determines it’s gun fire, human beings listen to the recordings to reconfirm the sound was made by a gunshot.

Paul Neudigate: And then usually what will happen is between 45 to 60 seconds after the gun fire is detected, it will show up in our computers… so it will come to an app right on your phone… and tell us, usually within 82 feet or 25 meters, exactly where that gun fire is occurring.

Celine Gounder: For Paul, ShotSpotter has really sped up the process of responding to gunshots.

Paul Neudigate: One of the big benefits that we find through ShotSpotter is… if we’re reliant on the citizenry to call it in, it goes through several layers…. It goes through the citizen, to a 911 operator who has to take the information. Then the 911 operator has to enter that information, send it to a call taker. Call taker has to read the information and find an available car, dispatch them, once again relay that information…

Celine Gounder: That whole process could take up to three, four, five minutes… maybe more.

Paul Neudigate: The way it is now, ShotSpotter cuts out numerous layers of that reporting and it will show up within 45 to 60 seconds on my phone, to tell me exactly where that is.

Celine Gounder: Paul says it’s also improved officer safety.

Paul Neudigate: When the community calls a shots-fired-run… they’re guesstimating. Shots can reverberate… Historically, if somebody calls it in, there’s a very good chance an officer’s driving through the actual kill zone or where someone has been firing shots on the way to where the shots-fired-run is now… Now when we receive that run, we can go to that specific location, we’re much safer, much more tactical in doing so, to make sure that our officers are not putting themselves into jeopardy.

Celine Gounder: And, according to Paul, Cincinnati has seen positive results.

Paul Neudigate: The number of shooting victims in Avondale was half in 2018 of what it was previously in 2017. 2017, we had 36 shooting victims in Avondale. We had 18 last year. As part of an overall violence reduction strategy, ShotSpotter has been very beneficial for us.

Celine Gounder: But it’s hard to parse out… to what extent ShotSpotter alone can be credited for these results. ShotSpotter is part of a comprehensive violence-reduction strategy with many moving parts… all being implemented at the same time. Currently, more than 90 cities throughout the U.S. use ShotSpotter… and elsewhere… the impact on gun shootings have been mixed. Some municipalities have discontinued the service, saying the technology wasn’t as accurate as they’d hoped… that it often raised false alarms… and that other times it completely missed gun shots that were actually fired. According to Paul, what’s made ShotSpotter so successful in Cincinnati is not only the technology itself… which continues to improve… but also the way the Cincinnati PD has applied it to their overall efforts.

Paul Neudigate: We treat every activation, like a priority one response… Just as if someone from the community is calling and saying there is an active gun battle, or we have a shooting victim. We respond quickly, we canvas, we triage for victims, witnesses, suspects… after we stabilize the scene…  We knock on doors. We let the community know what’s occurring, that we are there, that there were shots fired…

Paul Neudigate: Not only is it for us, the quick response… but we also do a very thorough job of collecting any trace evidence, any ballistic evidence that’s left at the scene. And we have 100% comprehensive collection. And we enter that within 2 to 48 hours into the ATF’s National Integrated Ballistic Information Network. And that’s the other piece.

Celine Gounder: This comprehensive collection allows them to identify links between different offenses.

Paul Neudigate: So, we canvass, we process those shell cases, we enter them into NIBIN…

Celine Gounder: NIBIN is the acronym for the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network. It’s a tool that evaluates and compares images of shell casings against those used in other crimes.

Paul Neudigate: …and what those shell cases tell us in many times is this wasn’t just someone out here randomly shooting in the air… The gun that they were shooting is linked to two other felonious assaults… a couple of robberies…

Celine Gounder: ShotSpotter helps the Cincinnati Police Department to respond more quickly on the scene, but also allows them to plan ahead and better design their patrol routes.

Paul Neudigate: Our hotspot patrols are predicated on timely data analysis. They change weekly and sometimes they will change daily based on what the data shows. Those small locations will get a concentrated dose of officers, but those are small locations scattered throughout the city, and not germain to an entire geographical footprint.

Celine Gounder: As enthusiastic as he is about ShotSpotter, Paul stresses that it’s not a magic bullet.

Paul Neudigate: What we have working for us right now is a series of competing and interlocking strategies… We still utilize group violence interruption, but we have really tweaked our process… So we’ve become much more refined at identifying those individuals that wreaking havoc and pulling the trigger in our communities. So between our very refined process, our reliance on data, the use of technology… we went from 479 shooting victims in 2015, to 336 last year, which was the best in 15 years.

Paul Neudigate: …if we need to evolve into something different next year because it’s not working, we absolutely will.

Celine Gounder: While it’s hard to draw a direct connection between ShotSpotter and the drop in gun shootings in Cincinnati, Paul does think ShotSpotter has helped improve relations between the Cincinnati PD and the Avondale community.

Paul Neudigate: What I can tell you is… we do believe it’s also helped improve the reputation of the police in the community. … So what we have found with ShotSpotter in Avondale is that we only get a companion call 16% of the time that ShotSpotter is activated…. so 84% of the time gunshots are occurring, we don’t even get a call from the community. And that’s due to a number of factors… and many times they feel that the police don’t care. And what I would offer is that if we’re only responding 16% of the time that there’s gunfire in Avondale, I can see why the community would perceive that.

Celine Gounder: Paul says his department had the foresight to survey folks in Avondale before rolling out ShotSpotter. No, it wasn’t a scientific study, but it yielded some important insights:

Paul Neudigate: How would you rank gun violence in the Avondale community as a priority? And I believe it was like 51% said it was absolutely their top priority. And then we also asked them, how do you believe the police department treats gun violence as a priority in your community, and I believe only 17% said that gun violence was a priority for the Cincinnati Police Department… So what I can tell you is absolutely that the number one priority for the police department is addressing gun violence in our challenged communities, but you can see the disconnect.

Celine Gounder: Earlier this year, the city of Cincinnati expanded its use of ShotSpotter to the Price Hill neighborhood. The system costs $65,000 per square mile to operate per year, and the company imposes a three-mile minimum in each neighborhood it operates in. The Avondale and Price Hill operations will cost Cincinnati $400,000 a year to operate. But the way Paul sees it, the high price tag is worth it.

Paul Neudigate: If we had to put cops to saturate the area… we would need to add hundreds of officers to our ranks to be able to accomplish the same saturation.

Celine Gounder: Manpower would be much more expensive than the tech… and feel a lot more like an occupying force in the community.

Celine Gounder: The ShotSpotter technology is still very much under development. One study of ShotSpotter in Philadelphia found that it actually created more work for the police… they had to investigate a lot more possible crime scenes… where they ended up finding… no evidence… of a shooting.

Celine Gounder: And ShotSpotter isn’t the only tech company developing products aimed at law enforcement. The big gorilla in this space… is Palantir. Palantir is the closest we’ve come to making the movie Minority Report and “true crime” a reality. Named after the crystal ball Saruman used to spy on the people of Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings… Palantir combines data from both government and private databases… to create a massive surveillance system. Police Departments across the country are using it to trace a suspect’s ties… not just to criminal records… or networks of violent offenders… but also to financial information… social media… toll booth data… and a lot more… to predict the likelihood that an individual will commit violence… or become a victim. Between 2012 and 2018, the City of New Orleans used Palantir as part of NOLA for Life, its initiative to fight murder and violent crime. Unlike other aspects of the program, the use of Palantir wasn’t public knowledge at the time… which… as you can imagine… made it even more controversial.

Charles West: Certainly, we used Palantir.

Celine Gounder: This is Charles West, who worked for the Mayor’s Office in New Orleans and oversaw the rollout of NOLA for Life. You might remember him from Episode 19, when he discussed New Orleans’ murder-reduction strategy. NOLA for Life didn’t make a dent in homicide and violent crime rates… and in 2016 and 2017, murders went up. Charles is careful to point out that they did not use Palantir’s predictive capabilities.

Charles West: The entire conversation that bubbled up recently about it being used to predict crime is just false. We actually are really careful to make sure that we never use any of its predictive capabilities. And so, for us, it was just a really useful data aggregation and analysis tool. I understand the significant privacy concerns that any amount of data gathered by government raises, and that we tried, as best as possible, to rely most heavily on public data, frankly. We were pulling in data that was often already existing in other public data systems and just aggregating it in a way that allowed the analysis to be easier. So for instance…  the network analysis that he would do following every shooting is something that used to take an officer two days or so, and he could do it in less than an hour. That level of efficiency is what we gained with Palantir…

Celine Gounder: Whether the city used Palantir to predict crime or not… it’s easy to see why it would make the public uncomfortable. After it became public knowledge that the New Orleans Police Department was using Palantir, the city ended its partnership with the tech company. Palantir was already controversial. “Proactive policing” sounds like a good strategy, but there’s a slippery slope between “crime prevention” and “crime prediction”… especially when it’s about punishing people… even before they’ve committed a crime. And Palantir has become even more controversial… with reports that it’s powering ICE… to conduct immigration raids… and deportations. It’s a slippery slope that often ends up infringing on people’s civil rights and liberties… and not everyone bears the cost equally. Poor people… people of color… and immigrants… are usually the ones most negatively affected.

Celine Gounder: When our systems become more efficient thanks to an algorithm or a new technology, the danger is… the biases baked into those systems… will be… too. A study out of MIT found that facial recognition technology is a lot more accurate for white people… than… for people of color. This means that black and brown people… are more likely to suffer harassment at the hands of police who’re using facial recognition software… even when they haven’t committed a crime. Palantir recently filed for a patent on facial recognition… adding to its already powerful data arsenal. This kind of technology is big business. It’s what some are calling “surveillance capitalism.” Palantir was co-founded by the venture capitalist Peter Thiel… started with seed money from the CIA… Palantir was originally developed as a military tool. It’s grown into one of the highest valued tech startups. Palantir plans to go public in 2020. It’s IPO is on target to be one of the biggest… ever.

Celine Gounder: ShotSpotter and Palantir are still unproven technologies. We don’t yet know what their impact will be on public safety… whether they’ll make things better… or… quite possibly worse… or how useful they’ll be to law enforcement. But there is technology out there that law enforcement could make use of… that would help them solve crimes… but we’re not taking advantage of it. This isn’t about buzzwords like machine learning and AI… it’s a lot more straightforward… and parenthetically… less lucrative.

Celine Gounder: When a police officer arrives at a crime scene and recovers a gun, one of the first steps in the investigation is to locate the gun’s owner. Obviously, it doesn’t mean the legal owner committed the crime… but knowing who the gun was registered to… can help generate leads. The police can interview the owner to find out who he or she lent it to… who had access to it… whether the gun was stolen… and the circumstances of that theft… all leads that could help the police find the person who used the gun in a crime.

Celine Gounder: In the United States, this process for finding the gun’s legal owner is surprisingly low-tech. Even more surprising… given how other government agencies… use similar technologies for similar purposes.

Mark Jones: The DEA could tell you exactly to the pill, to the tablet, to the injection, how much of any class four narcotic has been shipped to you as a doctor, or to a pharmacy, or has been distributed from that pharmacy and to who. They can tell you every one of them…

Celine Gounder: This is Mark Jones with the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence. Mark believes that, in the same way the DEA, the Drug Enforcement Administration, has access to this data… the ATF, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, should have similar information on guns. The data would help them be a lot more efficient. The more guns there are in a community, Mark says, the greater the likelihood criminals will get their hands on them… in the same way that the more opioids there are in a community… the greater the likelihood… some… will end up… on the black market.

Mark Jones: There’s nothing, there is no place in the United States that you can go to find out exactly how many of what kind of gun got sold to who. How much ammunition is in any one person’s hand or got sold at all ultimately.

Celine Gounder: Without access to this data, Mark says, it’s much harder to find out where a gun came from… and who it’s legal owner is.

Mark Jones: I can tell you, I can go online to ATF and tell you how many guns got manufactured, how many got exported. How many got sold in the US? Well, we don’t know. We have to use economic proxies to figure it out like taxes on gun stores or NICS checks, the call for background investigations, but those are all so imprecise…

Celine Gounder: NICS, N-I-C-S stands for National Instant Criminal Background Check System. It’s used by gun dealers to determine if a customer is allowed to buy a gun. But, as Mark points out, the number of NICS calls only gives you an estimate. The ATF just doesn’t know how many gun sales there are in the U.S. No one knows. The ATF is the only agency able to conduct what’s known as a gun trace.

Celine Gounder: What exactly is a gun trace? Basically everyone who’s been in possession of the gun… through the supply chain… from manufacturer to dealer to buyer. But, under current law, the ATF is prohibited from creating a federal registry of gun transactions. This means that… while it is technologically possible to create a system where an ATF officer could type in a serial number and instantly identify the buyer of a gun… the system we currently use works more like this:

Celine Gounder: When a police officer recovers a gun at a crime scene, he or she provides the gun’s serial number to the ATF along with a request for a trace. Then, workers at the ATF’s National Tracing Center start making their way through a series of phone calls. First, they call the gun manufacturer, and ask them to look through their records to find out which wholesaler they sold the gun to… Then they call the wholesaler, and ask them to look through their records and find what dealer they sold the gun to… And finally, the ATF worker calls the dealer itself, to ask them to identify the buyer of the gun. But… there’s a catch. A trace documents the life of a gun only up to the point of sale by a licensed dealer. The gun may change hands… legally… several times after that… in the secondary private market. In most states, only licensed dealers are required to track sales. If I own a gun and sell it to someone else on the private market… I’m not required to record that transaction with a dealer or report it to the government. These loose restrictions on private sales and transfers… means there’s actually no paper trail for the ATF to follow in tracing a gun. To complicate this even more… About a third of the time, a gun trace leads ATF to a dealer that’s gone out of business. In these situations, tracing a gun is even more difficult… thanks in no small part to technological restrictions Congress has placed on the ATF. By law, gun dealers that have gone out of business have to turn their records over to the ATF.

Mark Jones: Let me explain what the volume of that looks like… There’s a place in Martinsburg, West Virginia called the National Tracing Center.

Celine Gounder: It’s a giant building. Three stories high. A massive complex. Whenever any of the one hundred and forty thousand gun dealers in the U.S. goes out of business… they send their records here.

Mark Jones: ATF gets an 18-wheeler full of boxes one or two times a week. … They have exceeded their capacity to store records in the tracing center, these paper records in the building. So they’re now all in containers. They’ve been storing them now for a number of years in containers around the property that are rusting, and have holes, and there’s water dripping on the records.

Celine Gounder: By law, the ATF is not allowed to digitize these records. So instead…

Mark Jones: You’ve got technicians at ATF who receive these boxes, they get a literal tractor-trailer load, filled stem to stern halfway up with bankers boxes filled with multipartite forms, filled out by individual Americans buying guns. They have to separate the forms if they’re stapled, and then they have to microfiche them one at a time.

Celine Gounder: You heard correctly. Microfiche. Remember those clunky machines at the library? You might have used them for a research project back in high school or college… you’d load a card or roll into the machine… turn on the back light and squint… and as you scrolled through the film… you’d feel increasingly more nauseous. That’s microfiche. That’s the technology the ATF is allowed to use in 2019… a technology that most of us stopped using over twenty years ago.

Mark Jones: And the only thing ATF can do with these records, the closest thing they can do to making them easy to search is microfiche them…. If they get to them. They are never going to get to them. They don’t have the budget to do it and Congress will not let them digitize.

Celine Gounder: In an age when data is often available with a few keystrokes, federal law prohibits the ATF from creating any kind of database to search the trove of paperwork at its disposal. The National Rifle Association and other pro-gun groups have blocked efforts in Congress to create that database, saying such a step would bring the country too close to a “national registry” and poses a threat to the Second Amendment. That means that when a gun trace leads the ATF to a dealer that went out of business, an ATF worker has to search these records by hand… if they’re lucky, scrolling through a microfiche… or very often… digging through cardboard boxes filled with computer printouts, hand-scrawled index cards, and even water-stained sheets of paper. Needless to say… this slows down police work… by a lot.

Mark Jones: But I guarantee you could do these paper files pretty fast with a professional scanning company or something to get this thing done … But ATF is basically restricted from doing anything like that because if they do it, the industry is convinced, or at least says it’s convinced, and it’s convinced Congress, that that would be a de facto registration of the firearms that were sold by these dealers, and once they’re registered, the government knows where they are, and the government can come get them when they want them. They’ll confiscate them… I swear to God this is the logic that keeps our country from understanding what firearms commerce looks like. That’s it.

Celine Gounder: Gun traces, says Mark, can lead law enforcement to the gun dealers supplying straw purchasers and other criminals. Gun traces can help the police figure out how criminals are getting guns… and how to crack down on gun trafficking. But we’ve got to bring the process of gun tracing… into the twenty-first century.

Mark Jones: If the country knew how many Glocks got funneled to specific places, for instance, or how many Ruger 9 mm or 40 caliber pistols into a specific place and the actual population of gun owners that lived in that place, and what could actually be expected of a gun store to sell in a particular place, and yet all of those guns get sold. They go someplace else, and where do they go? There’s trafficking. Chicago has not one single gun store, but the police recover 6,000 to 10,000 guns a year here and have for years. How does that work?

Celine Gounder: In addition to being forced to use a low-tech, manual process for gun traces, the ATF is handicapped in other ways… that make it harder for the agency to do its job.

Celine Gounder: Since the early 2000s, the Tiarht Amendments… named after former Kansas Congressman Todd Tiarhrt… have blocked the ATF from sharing gun trace data. These are the restrictions Mark’s referring to. And these restrictions are part of the reason why the Baltimore Gun Trace Task Force… which we talked about in our last episode… couldn’t do the work it was supposed to do. In 2010, Congress loosened these restrictions… ever so slightly. But the ATF still can’t share gun trace data with cities, states… researchers… or other members of the public. The ATF can only publish aggregate data.

Mark Jones: They’ll show the state, and they’ll show breakdowns of how many guns got traced from the top 15 places, but that’s it. There’s nothing that you can do with that information as a police chief looking at an Illinois trace report. It’s informative, but it’s not helpful to do things like resource allocation or investigative focus or any of that kind of thing…

Celine Gounder: Even if they had more granular data, police departments don’t employ statisticians, epidemiologists and social scientists… the kinds of experts they’d need to really break down the gun trace data. And the Tiarht Amendments still block academic researchers from accessing gun trace data to collaborate with law enforcement in studying gun violence.

Celine Gounder: Mark says that without the gun trace data… and the ability to analyze it… law enforcement is limited in its ability to examine trends and expose corrupt dealers.

Celine Gounder: As we were working on this week’s episode… thinking about how federal law enforcement agencies use technology… how they collect, share, and keep data from the public… and how all of this impacts our ability to see trends, expose problems, and hold bad actors accountable… as we were doing all that… news broke.

“Welcome back. A database maintained by the Drug Enforcement Administration is being made public for the first time. It tracks the…”

Celine Gounder: After a two-year long legal battle… the Washington Post won the right to access and make publicly available a massive government database tracking the distribution of opioids. This DEA database tracks the movement of every opioid pill in the country… every hydrocodone and oxycodone… from manufacturers… to distributors… to doctors and pharmacies. The entire supply chain.

Celine Gounder: According to the Washington Post the data shows that:

“The drug industry — the pill manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers — found it profitable to flood some of the most vulnerable communities in America with billions of painkillers. They continued to move their product, and the medical community and government agencies failed to take effective action, even when it became apparent that these pills were fueling addiction and overdoses and were getting diverted to the streets.”

Celine Gounder: Policymakers, researchers, journalists and others are using this data to understand the sheer scope of the crisis… and who’s accountable.

Celine Gounder: So, what’s this got to do with gun violence? Opioids, like guns, are legal products. Doctors prescribe opioids because they have patients who legitimately need them. But there are also pill mills and blackmarkets… and people whose lives are destroyed by addiction. There were red flags in the opioid sales numbers… but because the DEA, much like the ATF, was hamstrung by corporate interests and their allies in Congress, it was hard for the DEA to hold companies accountable. Much the same can be said of the ATF and its ability to police the gun industry.

Celine Gounder: On the one hand, police departments across the country… and other law enforcement agencies… are experimenting with new digital technologies to fight violent crime in their jurisdictions. These technologies aren’t tested and proven. They’re expensive… and may backfire when it comes to public safety.

Celine Gounder: At the same time… at the federal level… Congress is blocking access to data and basic technology that experts like Mark say would have a direct and positive impact on reducing gun violence in communities across the country.

Mark Jones: Our policy agenda is essentially making sure that all firearms transactions in this country are recorded and scrutinized… If there’s an individual sale or you buy a gun from a gun dealer, there’s a record of it, and the gun can be tracked. If you can’t trace the guns, it makes the investigations that much harder. So we want to be able to have policies in this country that allow police officers to do their job efficiently.

Celine Gounder: Not just efficiently, but also safely.

Mark Jones: We have 300 million guns, more or less. We don’t know who has them. We don’t know where they are. We have to assume, as a law enforcement officer in this country, that every civilian you approach is armed. You have to because there’s so many darn guns.

Celine Gounder: More on the connection between all those guns… and the danger they pose to police officers’ lives… that’s next time… on “In Sickness and in Health.”

Celine Gounder: Today’s episode of “In Sickness and in Health” was produced by Virginia Lora and me. Our theme music is by Allan Vest. Additional music by The Blue Dot Sessions. If you enjoy the show, please tell a friend about it today. And if you haven’t already done so, leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. It helps more people find out about the show! You can learn more about this podcast and how to engage with us on social media at insicknessandinhealthpodcast.com. That’s insicknessandinhealthpodcast.com. I’m Dr. Celine Gounder. This is “In Sickness and in Health.”

Charles West Charles West
Chief Paul Neudigate Chief Paul Neudigate
Mark Jones Mark Jones
Dr. Celine Gounder Dr. Celine Gounder