A shooting at the LA Café on Bridge Street in Ashtabula, approximately 60 miles northeast of Cleveland has raised both eyebrows as well as questions (for a timeline of the news accounts as they unfolded, see: Sept 26, Sept 27, Sept 28). While neither is particularly unusual in the midst of a shooting, the simple truth is that most shootings are not random. That discernible patterns within criminal events relative to perpetrator, victim, location, time of day, day of week and even the presence or absence of intervening or mitigating variables exist demonstrate that much of crime is not, in fact, random. Criminologists tasked with measuring incidence and prevalence of crime will attest that a number of sociodemographic variables are highly correlated to both engaging in criminal enterprise as well as victimization.
This essay is not an examination of offender culpability or victim blame. This essay is merely a reflection of what criminologists know about violent crime and victimization. While “average Joe or Jane citizen” is quite fearful of violent crime as evidenced by various polls, the reality is that most crime is NOT random.
The shooting in Ashtabula on Bridge Street early Sunday morning has had the following facts established (as published by the local newspaper, The Star Beacon, see links embedded above): a black male, aged 26, was inside a tavern socializing with friends on a Saturday night. He received a phone call drawing him outside where he was shot twice at close range. The perpetrator fled on foot toward a parking lot. The following day, a black male, aged 20, was apprehended as the alleged shooter. Both the alleged perpetrator and the victim have criminal records for drugs.
What would a criminologist say about the shooting? Based on Uniform Crime Report data (UCR), National Crime Victimization Survey data (NCVS) and self-report studies the facts of this on-going investigation is consistent with what the empirical data show. Firstly, men are more likely to be both perpetrators, as well as victims, of violent crime (with the exception of sexual assault and domestic violence). Therefore, the sociodemographic variable of sex (i.e. male) of both assailant and victim are statistically consistent with the empirical evidence. That both men are of minority group status would also be demonstrated in the criminological literature. Members of minority groups are disproportionately (relative to percentages in the population) overrepresented as both perpetrators and victims of violent crime. Therefore, the sociodemographic variable of race/ethnicity (i.e. minority group status) would also be reflected in the empirical evidence.
The age of individuals with the highest rate of engaging in violent crime are found in the 15-24 year old age group. Likewise, victims of violent crime are also more likely to be found in the under 30 year old age cohort. Violent crime is also more likely to occur in the late evening to early morning hours of Friday and Saturday. The homicide was committed prior to the bar closing time of 2 a.m. on Saturday night (early Sunday morning). As anyone in law enforcement or EMS services knows, Friday and Saturday nights are the busiest nights of the week for assault and other acts of violence.
That the shooting took place outside of a tavern is not unusual either. “Deviant Place Theory” states that location, for criminal intent, “matters”. A shooting outside of a church, a grocery store or a dentist’s office would have been unusual; a shooting outside a tavern, criminologically speaking, is not. Moreover, that both the alleged assailant and the victim have prior arrest records involving illegal drugs, also reaffirms what is known about violent crime: that there exists a strong correlation between drugs and violence. Lastly, that the alleged assailant and victim were known to one another (i.e. acquaintances) is also consistent with what is known about violent crime. In more than half of all cases of violent crime, there is a relationship between the alleged perpetrator and victim.
The story of a homicide is always a personal tragedy for those close to the victim as well as to the perpetrator. Lives are destroyed, a community is torn and the feeling of being safe in one’s hometown is shattered. Although violent crime has decreased in the past several decades and continues to decline the current economic climate and the ironic “surplus” of some drugs in communities may reverse the trend. It is time for rebuilding before ground is lost.