Guns cost county $50m

Oct. 19, 2011, 2:50 a.m.

A recent study published by San Mateo County officials found that gun violence costs county taxpayers $50 million per year.

The study was conducted by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and presented by supervisor Rose Jacobs-Gibson at a public forum held on Sept. 29. Charisse Lebron-Cannon, who staffed the project from beginning to end, said Jacobs-Gibson hopes to “create a continuing dialogue” with community leaders to find solutions to alleviate the gun violence.

Between 2004 and 2009, the county experienced 133 non-fatal gun violence injuries and 36 fatal injuries. According to the report, each non-fatal injury cost taxpayers $46,000 and each fatal injury cost $6.4 million.

The costs included criminal proceedings, lost wages, medical care and long-term negative effects on the victims’ quality of life, the report said. The report also accounted for businesses located in dangerous neighborhoods that suffer economic costs due to the violence. According to the study, almost 40 percent of adults surveyed avoid shopping in areas they consider to be “risky.”

Over the past 20 years, the pattern of gun violence in the region has changed noticeably, the report said. Supervisor Jacobs-Gibson’s office reported a peak in youth gun violence in the 1990s. Rebecca Irwin, an aide for Jacobs-Gibson, said this was followed by a surge of community action, including the formation of a Crime Reduction Taskforce in East Palo Alto, that curbed the rise of gang violence.

However, Irwin added that these numbers have been “slowly creeping up for the past six or seven years,” prompting the ABAG to commission the survey on youth gun violence in San Mateo County.

The report gave county officers points of comparison between the rates of gun violence in San Mateo County and other areas. For example, while the county’s number of gun deaths per capita is approximately 40 percent lower than the national average, this statistic is also 55 percent higher than the rate in San Jose, a much larger urban area.

According to the report, gun violence in San Mateo County is not evenly spread. Four cities – East Palo Alto, Redwood City, Daly City and South San Francisco – which account for only 37 percent of the county’s total population, account for 57 percent of the instances of non-fatal gun violence and 74 percent of gun violence fatalities.

“The particularly pronounced levels of gang violence [in these areas] can be attributed to a myriad of factors like high unemployment — as high as 18 percent in East Palo Alto — and multigenerational incarceration,” Lebron-Cannon said.

In addition to showing that gun violence is not distributed evenly geographically, the study reported that different races are more likely to be involved in gun violence to different degrees. According to the county’s gun violence data from 2004 to 2009, young black men are more than three and a half times more likely to be shot and killed than other youths, and Latinos are 14 percent more likely to be killed than youths of other races in San Mateo County.

Jacobs-Gibson said the survey also revealed how easy it was for youth to access firearms. A majority of those surveyed, all under the age of 18, reported that they thought they could get a gun “with one phone call.”

According to Lebron-Cannon, the supervisor has a “wish list” of programs that she would like to enact to help curb gun violence in the county if she had unlimited funds, but for now, the emphasis will be placed on grassroots community solutions.

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