Rich Alteri has been busy. Every week, he combs through research and meets with local leaders in juvenile outreach, social services and justice reform while building new relationships with law enforcement agencies across Ramsey County.
A commander for the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office, Alteri has been working at the County Attorney's Office since March through part of a $900,000 grant acquired by U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, the Democrat from Minnesota's Fourth Congressional District. His goal: planning an initiative with criminal justice officials from across the county to solve more nonfatal shootings.
"It's all about violence reduction, mitigating harm caused by gun violence that affects all of our friends and neighbors," Alteri said. "We see the same people in multiple gun incidents, so as we solve more shootings, we prevent more shootings and homicides."
The new strategy in Ramsey County is to marshal state and local resources in what officials are calling a "full-court press" to solve nonfatal shootings. Alteri says all nine of the county's law enforcement agencies, from the St. Paul to the Mounds View police departments, plan to collaborate in the initiative.
The Ramsey County Attorney's Office plans to use $1.7 million over four years to pay for an investigator from the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office, shooting investigations for local law enforcement, quicker turnaround times to test guns used in crimes, and a fund for victim witnesses' safety.
When presenting the budget to the Board of Commissioners on Sept. 19, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said he believes the plan could nearly double the share of cases they successfully investigate.
"St. Paul has always been at the top, leading the nation on solving homicides, and that can be said for our suburban partners as well. But when it comes to the nonfatal shootings ... we don't do a very good job at solving that crime," Choi said, adding that nearly half of his proposed budget would go toward the victim witness safety fund.
"[Victims] know who shot them, but they don't wish to tell us who that is. So we're going to try something very, very different: to invest in this resource and to see if by supporting the safety needs that we can gain more cooperation."
Commissioners will vote whether to approve the budget on Sept. 26.
According to data from Choi's office, the percentage of homicide cases cleared in Ramsey County between 2021 and now has hovered between 85% and 95%. He says much of that can be attributed to more investigators and resources that are devoted to finding murder culprits.
But if you shoot and injure someone, you're more likely to get away with it.
The share of solved cases for aggravated assault with a firearm in Ramsey County — nonfatal shootings in that time — drifted between 27% and 33%, according to Choi's office. For the St. Paul Police Department, Deputy Chief Paul Ford reports that the solve rate for nonfatal shootings is around 35%.
Many factors make nonfatal shootings hard to investigate. Shooting witnesses often don't cooperate because they fear retaliation. Law enforcement agencies are stretched thin as they struggle to recruit and retain officers. And shootings often get fewer investigators and resources than homicides. But Ford says that SPPD will use part of $13.6 million in state funding to refocus investigations.
"What we're going to do is a project for the next three years, approximately, with the plan to treat [shootings] like a homicide," he said. "We're going to try to identify the guns that these shots are coming from, and identify the individuals involved in the shooting. So it's really a full-court press from the investigative side."
That project will involve two sergeants, one officer, a community engagement staffer to interact with residents during shootings, and an undetermined number of forensic service specialists whose numbers would vary depending on the investigation.
The agencies' strategies are still being developed with help, in part, from Ben Struhl, executive director for the University of Pennsylvania Crime and Justice Policy Lab. Struhl has researched cities and agencies that improved shooting investigations, and believes many jurisdictions fall short because they focus on solving difficult cases instead of the overall clearance rate, but says agencies in cities like Denver have changed that — nearly doubling the percentage of cases solved within a year.
Choi and officials from St. Paul police, the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office and the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension intend to travel to Denver in the coming weeks to learn how more nonfatal shootings were solved.
What they learn could have an impact on all of Minnesota, BCA Superintendent Drew Evans said, as shootings play a huge role in violence across the state because they produce fear in communities.
"So as we work to build thriving communities, driving down those number of shootings is really an important component of doing that," he said. "This is utilizing a subset of our resources at the BCA and working collaboratively to make those resources go further than if one single entity was focusing on them."