TIME Crime

Why the FBI Report That Mass Shootings Are Up Can Be Misleading

Gun Shooting
A new FBI report shows an increase in "active shooter" incidents, but that doesn't necessarily equate to more mass shootings, say criminologists. Getty Images

While 'active shooter' incidents appear to be on the rise in the U.S., mass shootings do not

Aurora. Virginia Tech. Fort Hood. Sandy Hook. They’re four of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history. And they’ve all occurred in the last seven years.

For many Americans, mass shootings in malls, movie theaters and schools seem commonplace today. They’re fixtures of newscasts and are routinely referenced by gun control advocates in Washington lobbying for more restrictive laws on firearms. But the notion that they’ve been increasing has been mostly anecdotal. For all the discussion of gun violence in the U.S., the federal government has never collected information on mass shootings in one place.

But on Wednesday, the FBI released a report doing just that, including analyses of “active shooter” incidents and annual totals of casualties since 2000, all of which seem to point to one conclusion: The U.S. is experiencing more mass shootings than ever.

The FBI identified 160 “active shooter” incidents and 1,043 casualties between 2000 and 2013, finding that an average of 6.4 incidents occurred in the first seven years, and 16.4 occurring in the following seven.

“I was surprised that we identified that many incidents overall,” says J. Pete Blair, a Texas State University criminal justice professor who co-authored the FBI report. “I think it speaks to the fact that while there is interest in the media, many incidents don’t get covered, especially if they result in few injuries or don’t draw the body count of others.”

Seventy percent of the incidents identified occurred either inside a business or an educational environment, like a public school or a college campus. Sixty percent were over by the time police arrived, all but two involved a single shooter, and in 40% of them, the shooters committed suicide.

But at least two prominent criminologists have taken issue with the FBI report’s findings. James Alan Fox, a Northeastern University criminal justice professor, and Grant Duwe, a director of research for the Minnesota Department of Corrections and author of a book on the history of mass murder in the U.S., are both known for being mass shooting contrarians. And both think the FBI numbers are misleading.

“These events are exceptionally rare and not necessarily on the increase,” Fox says.

One of the problems, they say, lies with the definition of “active shooter” and “mass shooter.” The FBI report analyzed “active shooter” incidents generally, a term defined by the federal government as an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill others in a confined and populated area. (The FBI report modified that definition a bit to include multiple individuals as well as events in locations not considered “confined.”)

The problem in conflating the two terms, Fox argues, is that an active shooter doesn’t necessarily have to kill anyone. And in fact, only 64 incidents involving “active shooters” met the federal government’s definition of a “mass killing,” in which three or more people were murdered in a single incident. In 31 incidents identified by the FBI report, no one was killed.

“A majority of active shooters are not mass shooters,” Fox says. “A majority kill fewer than three.”

If active shooters are removed from the equation, Fox says, mass shootings in fact have not been rising over the last few decades, and both the number of incidents and the number of victims has remained relatively steady since the 1970s.

Fox and Duwe are also critical of the report’s methodology. To collect many of the incidents, the FBI’s researchers often combed through news reports. But the term “active shooter” has only been in use within the last few years, Fox says, which may have skewed the numbers in favor of more recent events, possibly making it look as if shootings are rising.

An additional problem may also be the availability of digital news sources that could make it easier for researchers to find more recent incidents. For example, the FBI report only identifies one active shooter incident in 2000. Duwe’s analysis includes two.

“The point is if you go back to those earlier years, I don’t think they’ve gotten them all,” Fox says. “Recent years are easier to find.”

Blair, the report’s co-author, says he and the FBI has tried to make it clear that there’s a distinct difference between active and mass shooter. He says the agency decided to focus on active shooters generally in part to give law enforcement agents guidance on how those incidents were resolved, which could help them in future cases.

“The two terms have been confounded not just in the media, but by the public in general,” Blair says. “They interpret active shooter to mean a mass murder, a mass shooting. They could turn into that, but not all of them do.”

Blair acknowledges it’s possible the numbers have been skewed due to the availability of more recent news reports, but he disputes the argument that the numbers are biased because the term “active shooter” is more common today. Blair says researchers not only searched for “active shooter” in news articles but also for terms like “mass shooting,” “mall shooting” and “spree shooting.”

“Active shooter is one of the terms we search for, but it’s one of the least productive,” Blair says.

Not all criminologists dispute the FBI’s findings. Adam Lankford, a criminal justice professor at the University of Alabama who studies mass shootings, says he believes the numbers paint an accurate picture of what’s occurring nationwide, and that in fact criminologists like Fox are including cases of drug deals gone wrong and family disputes in their analyses, which he believes skew their own numbers.

“The public wants to know whether more incidents like what happened at UC-Santa Barbara [involving 22-year-old Elliot Rodger, who killed six people] or Sandy Hook are happening more often,” Lankford says. “And I think the evidence says yes.”

Duwe does acknowledge that 2012 on its own was one of the worst years for mass shootings in U.S. history. According to his analysis, there were eight that year—including 12 people killed and 58 wounded in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and 27 killed and two wounded at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Sixty-six people total were killed in mass shootings that year, Duwe says. (In contrast, the FBI listed 21 “active shooter” incidents and 90 people killed.)

But he says there’s been a “regression to the mean” since then, meaning there have been fewer mass shootings since 2012 and a return to more average levels. According to Duwe’s analysis, there were just three mass shootings in 2013 with 22 killed, and he says similar declines happened after 1991 and 1999, both high years for mass shootings in the U.S.

Duwe believes the perception Americans have that there are more mass shootings than ever can be chalked up in part to a faulty collective memory.

“We may just have historical amnesia,” he says.

TIME

No Charges in Toxic Tea Incident at Utah Eatery

(SALT LAKE CITY) — No charges will be filed in a case involving a woman who nearly died after unknowingly drinking iced tea mixed with chemicals at a suburban Salt Lake City restaurant, prosecutors said Friday.

Prosecutors determined after reviewing an extensive investigation by the South Jordan Police Department that there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, Salt Lake County Attorney Sim Gill said Friday in a short news release.

Authorities have said an employee at Dickey’s Barbecue in South Jordan unintentionally put the heavy-duty cleaner lye in a sugar bag, and another worker on Aug. 10 mistakenly mixed it into the iced-tea dispenser.

Later that day, Jan Harding took a single sip of the sweetened iced tea and suffered deep, ulcerated burns to her esophagus. She was hospitalized in critical condition.

Lye, an odorless chemical that looks like sugar, is used for degreasing deep fryers and is the active ingredient in Drano.

Harding, 67, spent nearly two weeks in a Salt Lake City hospital. She has been out of the hospital for weeks and is recovering.

Her attorney, Paxton Guymon, wasn’t immediately for comment.

The Dallas-based Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants Inc. didn’t immediately have any comment. The company earlier said the incident was isolated and unprecedented in the chain’s 73-year history.

Guymon has said he discovered another lye incident at the restaurant in July. An employee burned herself when she stuck her finger in a sugar container and licked it to test for the chemical cleaner, he said.

Harding was the first person to drink from the chemically laced batch of tea, and no one else was harmed. She said recently in her first public comments that it felt like an all-consuming fire in her mouth.

She said she is recovering but still doesn’t feel like herself. She said doctors say she must undergo additional tests before they can determine what long-term complications she could face.

Harding and her Baptist minister husband, Jim Harding, have said they are not angry with anyone at Dickey’s. They said they are sharing their story in hopes that other restaurants will take measures to prevent something similar from happening, perhaps by adding colored dye to dangerous chemicals.

TIME

Pictures of the Week: Sept. 19 – Sept. 26

From Syrian Kurds fleeing ISIS and the People’s Climate March to synchronized aquatics at the Asian Games and Derek Jeter’s perfect send off, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.

 

TIME Transportation

Why a Fire Miles Away From an Airport Is Causing Massive Air Traffic Delays

Air traffic control is a big, complicated system, and any problems in one part of that system will affect the whole thing

A potentially suspicious fire at an air traffic control center about 40 miles from downtown Chicago is causing massive delays at O’Hare International, Midway and other airports across the country Friday morning. Looking at a screenshot of air traffic, it looks like aircraft were trying to avoid a black hole right over Chicago — and in a way, they were, as a ground stop Friday morning meant not much was able to fly in or out of Chicago-area airfields.

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FlightRadar24

 

A TIME reporter at Chicago O’Hare International Airport Friday said that flights which had been diverted to nearby airports began trickling into Chicago by mid-morning. The incoming aircraft were forced to fly at 10,000 feet, so they could be tracked by local radar, according to the reporter’s pilot. At O’Hare, travelers queued at every gate hoping to make it out on the handful of flights still scheduled to depart.

But how can a fire nowhere near an airport cause this much disruption to the national airspace?

The facility in question, which had to be evacuated, isn’t a control tower like ones you find at most airports. Instead, it’s an Air Route Traffic Control Center, or ARTCC. The center’s job is to control aircraft that are flying high above the country and in-between other air traffic controllers’ zones of responsibility. Air traffic control is a little like playing hot potato: From takeoff to touchdown, commercial aircraft typically get passed around from controller to controller — and facility to facility — as they make it to their final destination. The typical list of controllers a commercial pilot might talk to on any given flight might look like this: Clearance (for getting instructions about air routes before the flight), Ground (for taxiing around the airport), Tower (for takeoff clearance), ARTCC (for flying between airports), TRACON (for approaching airports) and then Tower again.

Not every flight will follow this precise order. Many airports don’t have regional TRACONs, for example, and most small airfields — the kind where you’d mostly find recreational pilots — don’t have controllers of any kind, instead relying on pilots’ ability to stay aware of one another’s location via a common radio frequency.

The Aurora, Ill. control center affected by the fire, one of 22 such centers across the country, is responsible for high-altitude air traffic for a good chunk of airspace above the central northwest. Here’s a cartoonish map from the Federal Aviation Administration (the Aurora center is represented by the light brown-shaded zone over Chicago):

FAA

This map pretty clearly shows why the Aurora fire messed up flights in and out of Chicago: Any major airports in that zone are going to be affected by a problem in Aurora. The FAA can offload some tasks normally handed by Aurora to other area ARTCCs, but that’s a bandaid more than a proper fix.

And the Aurora problems will probably cause air travel headaches for the rest of Friday, too. The air traffic control system is a network, and a major problem in one part of the network will cause issues elsewhere, too. On top of that, commercial airlines depend on their aircraft being in certain places in certain times: Your flight from New York to Florida, a course that shouldn’t take you anywhere near Chicago, could be affected today because your plane was coming in from O’Hare. Or, at least, it was supposed to. Four hours ago. Good luck, travelers!

–With reporting from Jay Newton-Small

TIME Bizarre

NYC Mailman Allegedly Kept 40,000 Letters Instead of Delivering Them

US Postal Service Mail Delivery Ahead Of Second-Quarter Results
The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) logo is seen on the side of a delivery truck in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, May 9, 2013. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

No word on whether he was grooving to all our love letters

A Brooklyn mailman has been accused of hoarding 40,000 pieces of mail at home, in his car and in has locker, according to a federal complaint.

The mail carrier, 67-year-old Joseph Brucato, was arrested this week after his supervisor noticed undelivered mail in Brucato’s car.

A police official said that when confronted, Brucato said he didn’t deliver mail on some days for “personal reasons.” The mail carrier’s lawyer said Brucato suffered from depression.

Brucato was arraigned Wednesday and subsequently released. The United States Postal Service has suspended him without pay.

TIME Crime

Woman Beheaded in Oklahoma During Workplace Fight

The assailant then tried to kill another woman after a workplace dispute

A man in Moore, Oklahoma, decapitated a woman during a workplace dispute before trying to kill another woman, authorities said Friday.

The incident took place at a Vaughn Foods Inc. distribution center in a town near Oklahoma City, The Daily Oklahoman reports.

The suspect, identified as Alton Alexander Nolan, 30, is accused of beheading one woman, who was pronounced dead at the scene, and stabbing another woman. The other woman was hospitalized; her condition is not known. Nolan was shot by an off-duty sheriff’s deputy and hospitalized. He is expected to survive.

The names of the women and the shooter have not been released.

[The Daily Oklahoman]

TIME Immigration

U.S.: Most New Immigrant Families Fail to Report

(WASHINGTON) — For nearly three months this summer, the Obama administration carefully avoided answering questions about what happened to tens of thousands of immigrant families caught illegally crossing the Mexican border and released into the United States with instructions to report back to immigration authorities.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and others said they faced deportation. But it turns out that tens of thousands of those immigrants did not follow the government’s instructions to meet with federal immigration agents within 15 days. Instead, they have vanished into the interior of the U.S.

The Homeland Security Department privately acknowledged that about 70 percent of immigrant families failed to report as ordered. The disclosure came during a confidential meeting at its Washington headquarters with immigration advocates participating in a federal working group on detention and enforcement policies.

The Associated Press obtained an audio recording of Wednesday’s meeting and separately interviewed participants.

On the recording, the government did not specify the total number of families released into the U.S. since October. Since only a few hundred families have already been returned to their home countries and limited U.S. detention facilities can house only about 1,200 family members, the 70 percent figure suggests the government released roughly 41,000 members of immigrant families who subsequently failed to appear at federal immigration offices.

The official, who was not identified by name on the recording, also said final deportation had been ordered for at least 860 people traveling as families caught at the border since May but only 14 people had reported as ordered.

The Homeland Security Department did not dispute the authenticity of the recording.

In an emailed statement Thursday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said the no-show figure represented “an approximate snapshot” of cases since May. Christiansen said some people may still report to immigration court hearings, and a “significant” number of deportation cases are still pending before judges.

The AP reported in June that the administration would not say publicly how many immigrant families from Central America caught crossing into the U.S. it had released in recent months or how many of those subsequently reported back to the government after 15 days as directed. The AP noted that senior U.S. officials directly familiar with the issue, including at the Homeland Security Department and White House, had dodged the answer on at least seven occasions over two weeks, alternately saying that they did not know the figure or didn’t have it immediately at hand.

Homeland Security’s public affairs office during the same period did not answer roughly a dozen requests for the figures.

More than 66,000 immigrants traveling as families, mostly mothers and young children, have been apprehended at the border since the start of the budget year in October. Nearly 60,000 of those immigrants are from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala and cannot be immediately repatriated, so the government has been releasing them into the U.S. and telling them to report within 15 days to the nearest Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices.

Republican lawmakers have been critical of the administration’s decision to release any immigrants caught crossing the border illegally.

“With this administration’s failure to enforce our immigration laws, it is no surprise that 70 percent of the families released take their chances to stay here and don’t show up for their follow-up appointments or court dates,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said.

That previously undisclosed no-show rate led in part to the government’s decision in June to open a temporary detention facility at a federal training center in Artesia, New Mexico.

A second immigration jail in Texas was later converted for families and can house about 530 people. A third such detention center will open in Texas later this year. Before the new facility in Artesia, the government had room for fewer than 100 people at its only family detention center in Pennsylvania.

Immigration advocates have complained that the new detention centers were punishing immigrants who ultimately may win lawful asylum claims to remain in the U.S. In the meeting, they also questioned whether immigration officials had clearly and properly instructed immigrants to meet with federal agents within 15 days.

The ICE official said it was necessary to detain families to ensure they didn’t vanish into the U.S. He encouraged advocacy groups to help find ways to ensure that immigrants reported to federal agents as ordered so the government could begin processing their cases, including any requests to remain in the U.S. legally.

TIME Crime

Bar Owner Says Missing College Student Appeared Drunk When Last Seen

Hannah Elizabeth Graham
This undated photo provided by the Charlottesville, Va. police department shows missing University of Virginia student Hannah Graham. Jesse Leroy Matthew Jr., 32, charged with abducting Graham, was captured in Texas on Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014, and is awaiting extradition — but there is still no sign the 18-year-old student, authorities said. Uncredited—AP

Hannah Graham could barely walk when she was last seen with the man charged in her kidnapping, a bar owner says

The University of Virginia student missing since September 13 appeared “incapacitated” by alcohol when she walked away from a Charlottesville bar with the man believed to have kidnapped her, a bar owner said.

Seen standing outside the Tempo Restaurant, Hannah Graham, 18, could barely walk without the support of Jesse Leroy Matthew Jr, 32, who has been arrested and charged in her kidnapping, bar owner Bruce Cunningham told the Associated Press.

Cunningham said Graham never attempted to enter the bar nor was she served there, though police said at least one witness disputes that account. Graham had been at campus parties earlier in the evening.

Graham’s disappearance set off a massive manhunt in the Charlottesville area but she has not yet been found.

“We still have no idea whatsoever where she is, despite our best efforts,” Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo said. “We have an obligation to bring her home, one way or the other. That’s what we promised to do.”

Matthew fled after being questioned by police Saturday and was arrested in a Texas beach town roughly seven hours from the Mexico border. He has been charged with “abduction with intent to defile.”

[AP]

TIME Transportation

Fire at Air Traffic Center Halts Chicago Flights

O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Ill., Sept. 19, 2014.
O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Ill., Sept. 19, 2014. Kamil Krzaczynski—EPA

Update: Sept. 26, 11:36 a.m. ET

(CHICAGO) — All flights in and out of Chicago’s two airports were halted Friday after a fire at a suburban air traffic control facility sent delays and cancellations rippling through the nation’s air travel network.

Authorities said the blaze was intentionally set by a contract employee of the Federal Aviation Administration and had no ties to terrorism. More than 850 flights had been canceled in Chicago alone and many more were expected.

The early morning fire forced the evacuation of the control center in Aurora, about 40 miles west of downtown Chicago. Emergency crews found the man suspected of setting the fire in the basement, where the blaze began, with a self-inflicted wound. He was taken to a hospital.

Aurora Police Chief Gregory Thomas said the fire was not a terrorist act. The FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and local police and fire departments were investigating.

When the center was evacuated, management of the region’s airspace was transferred to other facilities, according to FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Cory.

Authorities said it was unclear how long the stoppage would last.

Aurora spokesman Dan Ferrelli gave no details on the suspect’s injury, but said in an emailed statement that it was not from a gunshot.

Another employee of the facility was treated at the scene for smoke inhalation. The flames were extinguished by 7 a.m., according to Ferrelli’s email.

Online radar images showed a gaping hole in the nation’s air traffic map over the upper Midwest.

At O’Hare’s Terminal 3, long lines formed at ticket counters as airlines continued to check in passengers.

Waiting by an American Airlines counter, Jon Sciarrini said his homebound flight to Dallas had been delayed, and he didn’t know whether he should wait or try to arrange another flight.

“It’s pretty frustrating — a little like being in purgatory,” the IT specialist said.

It was the second time since May that a problem at one of the Chicago area’s major control facilities prompted a ground stop at O’Hare and Midway international airports.

In May, an electrical problem forced the evacuation of a regional radar facility in suburban Elgin. A bathroom exhaust fan overheated and melted insulation on some wires, sending smoke through the facility’s ventilation system and into the control room.

That site was evacuated for three hours, and more than 1,100 flights were canceled.

The Aurora facility, known as an enroute center, handles aircraft flying at high altitudes, including those approaching or leaving Chicago airports. Air traffic closer to the airports is handled by a different facility and by the control towers located at the airfields.

A computer glitch at a similar facility on the West Coast in April forced a 45-minute shutdown at Los Angeles International Airport.

___

Associated Press Writer Michael Tarm contributed to this report.

TIME cities

Detroit Pedestrian Bridge Collapses Across Major Highway

The Cathedral Road pedestrian bridge lies collapsed on the south M-39 highway after a truck hit it on Sept. 26, 2014, in Detroit.
The Cathedral Road pedestrian bridge lies collapsed on the south M-39 highway after a truck hit it on Sept. 26, 2014, in Detroit. Robert Allen—AP

Lions quarterback Matt Stafford was on the scene, mingling with others

Updated at 10:30 a.m.

A pedestrian bridge spanning a major freeway in Detroit collapsed Friday morning after it was struck by the bucket of a truck, killing the driver and causing a substantial traffic buildup.

The collapsed bridge on Joy Road spanning the Southfield freeway blocked traffic in both directions. No further injuries have been reported stemming from the incident.

Detroit Lions Quarterback Matthew Stafford was among the last drivers to pass under the bridge before it crashed to the ground. He was seen mingling with other onlookers amid the wreckage.

A spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Transportation, Diane Cross, told CBS Local news “it’s an older bridge” but The Detroit Free Press reports the bridge passed inspection just last May.

[CBS Local]

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