It was July 2005 when Dr. Mallory O’Brien noticed a disturbing trend: Milwaukee was on pace to have twice as many tavern-related homicides as the previous year.
“I walked into an assistant chief’s office at the Milwaukee Police Department and said, ‘We’ve got a problem here. And we’ve got to do something about it,’” says the clinical assistant professor in the College of Nursing. “Within a couple of days, there was a law enforcement response focusing on problematic taverns.”
The idea for collecting and analyzing gun violence data was fairly new when O’Brien started her research studies in 1994. Today, O’Brien is on the leading edge of Milwaukee’s efforts to study — and ultimately reduce — gun-related deaths as founding director of Milwaukee’s Homicide Review Commission, a multiagency effort that tracks gun violence data in real time, identifies trends and proposes solutions.
O’Brien convenes a monthly review with leaders from the police department, district attorney’s office, probation and parole officers, and other criminal justice partners. The commission also holds separate meetings with leaders of community organizations. The meetings help assemble information to shed light on the root causes leading to a particular violent incident, which may indicate a trend. Did the crime happen at a property known for problems? Did the suspect — or victim — have an arrest record? Was either of them a gang member? Were alcohol or drugs involved? Was there an argument? Where did the weapon come from?
“We do it real time, and we do it with people as opposed to waiting for a piece of paper to finally make it to someone’s desk,” O’Brien says. “You’re hearing from people who have intimate knowledge of what happened or what led up to the homicide.” — CJ