Investigators – NBC Bay Area
Yet another fatal highway shooting in Oakland on Feb. 4, 2022, has many wondering if the San Francisco Bay Area is experiencing a disturbing and violent trend.
1970s Cal Basketball legend Gene Ransom was fatally shot on Interstate 880 in Oakland. California Highway Patrol arrested 25-year-old Juan Angel Garcia of San Francisco for the fatal shooting the day after Ransom was found dead in his car.
An NBC Bay Area analysis of CHP data on freeway shootings shows a concerning trend.
Statistics show highway shootings more than doubled between 2019 and the end of 2021. Maps created by NBC’s Bay Area Investigation Unit show hot spots where the highest number of shootings are occurring. Investigators say gang warfare is the main cause of the surge, as global homicide rates hit their highest levels since federal agencies began tracking such data nearly 100 years ago.
A single bullet, fired on I-580 in a moving vehicle, changed the lives of Barbara Nguyen and her family. “They didn’t just ruin one person’s life, they ruined many more,” Nguyen said after his brother, David Nguyen, was shot and killed on his way home to San Francisco after a deputy training program. Nguyen was one month away from graduating and becoming a deputy in the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office.
“The situation itself is devastating, but the fact that the attacker is still at large, without a lead, nothing, it’s very disappointing,” said his sister, Barbara. “David deserves justice. And it’s not just David either, it’s all the other victims. There are a lot of things that need to change. And if they don’t, it’s going to continue to happen.
NBC Bay Area’s analysis of CHP data shows that in the past 3 years, shootings along freeways have more than doubled in the Bay Area, increasing 117% from 82 shootings in 2019 to 124 in 2020 and 178 shootings through mid-December 2021.
Bay Area Highway Shootings, 2019-2021
NBC’s Bay Area Investigation Unit mapped 378 reported roadside shootings between 2019 and 2021. Larger dots indicate reports of death or injury. Approximate filming locations are based on California Highway Patrol data.
Dr. Philip Cook, professor emeritus of public policy at Duke University, has studied gun violence in American cities since the 1970s, focusing on the economics of violent crime, its causes and effects.
Dr Cook points out that while most other crimes fell nationally in 2020, homicides rose. “There has never been such a significant increase as between 2019 and 2020,” he said, noting that the level of homicides was the highest since the federal government began tracking homicides. in the 1930s: a 30% increase in the number of people killed. This includes a spike in violent crime in the Bay Area in cities such as San Francisco and Oakland and surrounding communities.
Cook said several factors may have contributed to the spike in homicides. During the pandemic, courts have gone virtual, prisons have emptied and social services that work with young men have been reduced. During this time, there has been a sharp increase in arms sales and the carrying of arms.
Freeway shootings have more than doubled on Bay Area freeways since 2019. Here’s an in-depth look at the latest numbers.
But Dr Cook said that only partially explains the big jump in highway shootings.
Joshua Jackson, Assistant Special Agent for Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, admits it’s often difficult for investigators to solve these roadside shootings. However, Jackson said his agency is assisting state and local investigators by using all the latest high-tech tools to help track suspects in freeway shootings. “You’re dealing with a vast field of evidence,” Jackson said, “it can range from a quarter of a mile to a few miles you’re dealing with.” To find this evidence, ATF uses specially trained dogs.
“Dogs are critically important in helping us do the comprehensive collection that we need to do to get that ballistic evidence into NIBIN and into our lab.” NIBIN, which stands for National Integrated Ballistic Intelligence Networks, is a weapons database maintained by the ATF. It collects millions of pieces of ballistics evidence from crime scenes across the country and helps establish matches to other crimes and potential suspects where the same weapons were used.
“We are able to develop DNA from these fired cartridge cases,” Jackson said, “and while he said he couldn’t jeopardize a case by sharing specific information, he confirmed that the ATF had actually tracked down the highway shooting suspects by analyzing the casings fired.
“The most important thing we want to emphasize to people is that our highways are safe. The reality is that if we look at the statistics you are much, much more likely to be involved in an accident or to be affected by someone driving while distracted than to be involved in one of these incidents. said Constable Andrew Barclay, Public Information Officer. Officer of the California Highway Patrol’s Golden Gate Division, which oversees all roads in the Bay Area and is the primary investigative agency for all of these shootings.
“In the incidents that we were able to really break down and look at the causes…our number one is targeted violence or targeted gang violence,” Barclay said.
Officer Barclay said the second cause of these highway shootings is road rage.
Other law enforcement sources confirmed that gang hits are the leading cause of highway shootings and innocent bystanders are caught in the crossfire.
And despite the involvement of multiple law enforcement agencies and their resources, data shows that these crimes often go unsolved. Sources say it’s because there are few witnesses, a vague crime scene and an easy getaway, and few of these cases are solved. Of the 178 highway shootings handled by the CHP in 2021, only 11%, or about one in 10, resulted in an arrest of some kind. The rate was similar in 2019 and 2020.
“These are complex and lengthy investigations,” Barclay said. “We work in an environment where these crimes are happening that are very dynamic.”
The CHP pointed out that in the last freeway shooting, that of Cal Basketball legend Ransom, a suspect was arrested 24 hours after the incident.
Several local law enforcement sources have expressed concern to the Investigation Unit that the CHP may not be the best agency to conduct shooting investigations, arguing that the CHP is specialized in traffic and accident law enforcement, not in heavy gunfire and gang warfare.
“A key to solving these crimes is knowing the criminal gangs working in an area,” Dr Cook said. “I don’t know if the Highway Patrol has that capability.”
When asked if the CHP was the right agency to conduct these investigations, Officer Barclay replied, “Absolutely…we are a statewide law enforcement agency. We have our investigative services unit. It is the trained professionals who are there to investigate these cases.
One solution to this problem may be to install and use more surveillance cameras along highways. After a spike in freeway shootings five years ago, Pittsburgh police installed a freeway security net: some 200 cameras, along with Shot Spotter sound equipment, to help catch shooters and their cars on the run.
“After implementing the system in 2016, we saw a drastic reduction in freeway shootings within the Pittsburgh city limits.” said Police Captain Steve Albanese.
It’s expensive. Pittsburgh has already spent more than $3 million on traffic cameras, funded by federal and state grants, and the City of Pittsburgh.
But the police there say, “It’s 100% worth it.
Dr. Cook points out that downtown Chicago has cameras everywhere. “And I think locals welcome them,” he said. “They feel that despite the loss of privacy, if it helps make those areas safer than they otherwise would be, it’s worth it.”
“Anyone, any of us driving to work, driving to your family, to your friend’s house, you can be the victim of one of those shootings that happen on our highways and highways” , said Special Agent STF Jackson.
“Once you lose a loved one…there is nothing you can do to bring them back for all the money in the world,” Barbara Nguyen said. “The only thing you can do is make sure it doesn’t happen to other people. And that’s the change I want to see, I want to see a safer environment for young children to grow up and feel safe.”