Tracking Rochester shootings uncovers way to help predict and prevent crime

Based on that data, Rochester Police said they have uncovered a way that could help to stop some of those crimes before they happen. (WHAM photo)

Rochester, N.Y. (WHAM) - Cell phone video captured the chaos on November 29, 2013

"Someone just started shooting from behind us, just started shooting in the crowd," said Norm Simmons.

Simmons was outside a club on St. Paul Street when a single shot was followed by others. Four people were hit.

"It was like a whistle," Simmons said of the shot that struck him "It went into my back and bounced off my vertebrae."

Simmons will forever carry the scars from the entry wound and from surgery to repair his liver, kidneys and collapsed lung. Doctors were unable to remove the bullet, so he carries that, too.

"I was in the wrong place at the wrong time," Simmons told 13WHAM's Jane Flasch.

With the help of students from Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester Police investigators have tracked every shooting in the City of Rochester over the last five years. In cross-referencing information on 2,500 victims, something clear has emerged. Eighty percent of people who are shot or stabbed Rochester are likely to become a victim of violence again.

The reason? The majority of shootings are sparked by revenge and/or retaliation.

"Everyone is wondering, 'Who did this? Why is my baby lying here,'" said Ray Mayoliz of Pathways to Peace. "Then they think, 'I want to go out there and take care of this on my own.'"

By tracking these shootings, police have also learned a young victim of violence who arrives in the emergency room is twice as likely to return for different incidents. Within five years - one in five of those victims will be killed.

Trauma surgeons recognize this reality. For a decade, they have used a video to turn the emergency room into a teachable moment. It shows the aftermath of soiled operating rooms, and contains interviews with mothers who have lost their children to violence. In one scene a doctor says, "You've survived. That means you've been given a chance."

In another scene, there are patients who on ventilators and others who've lost limbs and control of body functions.

"The message is right there because you're lying there with a bullet in your body," Mayoliz said. "If you don't change anything in your life, you're going to end up here or worse - in jail or six feet under."

"We know hospital interventions work," said Irsahd Altheimer of RIT's Center for Public Safety Initiatives. Yet there is also a disconnect that comes after patients are discharged. "They get intervention that starts in the hospital, but once they get back into the community there's very little start up or follow through."

Simmons described what it is like to be lying in a hospital bed because of a violent act.

"We're scared," Simmons said. "We don't know what's going to happen. I'll shoot you before you shoot me because I'm in fear of my life."

Now, within 20 minutes of their arrival at the hospital, a person injured by violence will be visited by outreach workers from Pathways to Peace to determine if the injury is the result of a dispute.

"To make sure that first of all it is safe for that person to go back into the community," said Mayoliz. "If not, we step in to do the work that we do to try to de-escalate things."

RIT has obtained a $194,000 grant from the New York State Health Foundation to facilitate, track and further analyze the emergency room interventions. Those involved believe they can prevent 60 violent incidents from occurring every year. Perhaps, they believe, they could even stop a homicide before it occurs.

Simmons and three other people injured that Thanksgiving night do not know whether the shots fired were part of a dispute or retaliation. No one was ever arrested.

At the time, Simmons was studying for his master's degree - home from school. He now is a voice for the community, working with the Boys and Girls Club and coaches.

"[Violence] is what's in [young people's] faces right now," he said. "That is what we're seeing every day. If you don't give them something different than what they know hat's what they're going to do."

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