Following Salem, Marion County hires researchers to analyze gun violence

The Marion County Sheriff’s Office has hired outside researchers to investigate the state of gun violence across the county and create a report that includes unincorporated east Salem.

The agency contracted on March 11 with the same East Coast researchers who were brought in last year by the Salem Police Department to analyze shootings in the city. The county will pay $32,500 for the work.

“The goal of this analysis is to examine the circumstances of incidents, explore the characteristics of individuals involved, and identify the social networks at greatest risk for involvement in violence,” according to the contract for the Marion County Gun Violence Problem Analysis.

The project is intended to inform local policy as well as strategies to prevent future violence and intervene in the lives of those involved. The research should take about four months.

“We hope to have a report by late summer,” according to Deputy Jeremy Schwab, Marion County Sheriff’s Office spokesman.

The sheriff’s office has contracted with Dr. Lisa Barao, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Westfield State University in Massachusetts, and Christopher Mastroianni, a special operations group sergeant at the Hartford Police Department in Connecticut. 

Both researchers serve leading roles in law enforcement programs dedicated to reducing gun violence, according to their earlier contract with the city of Salem. They were paid $15,000 under that contract.

That city report in November showed that local shootings doubled in the past five years and were largely concentrated in northeast Salem. But the researchers didn’t count parts of east Salem outside city limits such as Hayesville and Four Corners, where the sheriff’s office responds to reports of violence. 

Marion County Sheriff Nick Hunter said in a joint session in November that the same gun violence surge seen in Salem is likely happening in those unincorporated areas. 

“There’s this jigsaw puzzle of a dividing line of where (the) city starts and ends, and the county starts and ends,” Salem Police Chief Trevor Womack said at a March 6 public forum on gun violence ​​at the East Salem Community Center. “When shootings happen on one side or the other, it doesn’t matter for our community. It shouldn’t matter what jurisdiction that occurs in. We should be working closely together to make sure we’re sharing information and collaborating.”

Map of hot spots of gun violence within Salem city limits (Screenshot/ Salem Gun Violence Problem Analysis)

The new county agreement calls for a review of data from 2014 to 2023 showing homicides and nonfatal injury shootings compared with long-term trends, demographics of people involved in aggravated assaults and gun crimes, and the geographical location of such incidents, including schools and parks.

The researchers are tasked with focusing on youth involvement in serious violence and gun crimes in Marion County. They will analyze data on arrests of juveniles, as well as their status after being put on probation or released on parole from a youth correctional facility.

The November city report showed that the number of teenagers arrested for serious assaults has tripled in the past three years.

Troy Gregg, director of the Marion County Juvenile Department, also recently told Salem Reporter that his agency has noticed a marked increase in the past year of youth gang activity. He said in that time there also has been a rise in juvenile charges related to weapons. Gregg said those accusations have typically been related to gangs.

The new county report will also include data on other crimes such as vehicle theft and robbery which “emerge as nexus offenses to gun violence as data collection proceeds,” the contract said.

Researchers will also interview investigators and intelligence analysts at local law enforcement agencies, according to the contract. The agencies include the sheriff’s office as well as police departments in Salem, Keizer, Woodburn and Stayton, which see the highest number of shootings in the county which leave people dead or injured.

The findings of the earlier city report prompted Salem officials to spearhead a Community Violence Reduction Initiative, which will bring together law enforcement agencies and community organizations to focus on preventing shootings. Salem police assigned newly promoted Deputy Chief Debra Aguilar to lead the agency’s work. 

The city is also hiring for a temporary “violence coordinator” in the city manager’s office to oversee the new program. The position would cost $54,000, paid from police salary savings from vacant positions.  Womack said at the March forum that the person would help coordinate “community capacity,” including convening future meetings on reducing violence.

Councilors also recently approved $18,000 of such funding for work related to the initiative. 

A “community conversation” in Spanish about reducing violence is scheduled for Friday, April 19, from 6-7:30 p.m. at Chemeketa Community College in Building 2, 4000 Lancaster Dr. N.E. English translation will be available to those who request it.

Salem neighbors are invited to an important conversation about the increasing levels of violence in our city. This meeting be in Spanish with English translation provided upon request.


Community forum on gun violence prompts calls for more information in Spanish

Viewers weigh in on Gun Violence Town Hall, solutions proposed

“Always on the run from violence”: Salem teens share accounts of surging shootings

Police chief plans 6-person team to focus on Salem gun violence

Some Salem leaders never stopped fighting gangs. They’re skeptical of the city’s new push.

Schools need community help to engage youth, prevent gun violence

Cutting Salem gun violence will take shift in police tactics, researchers say

Salem shootings doubled, teen violence tripled in recent years, report finds

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

SUPPORT OUR WORK – We depend on subscribers for resources to report on Salem with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Subscribe today to get our daily newsletters and more. Click I want to subscribe!

Ardeshir Tabrizian has covered criminal justice and housing for Salem Reporter since September 2021. As an Oregon native, his award-winning watchdog journalism has traversed the state. He has done reporting for The Oregonian, Eugene Weekly and Malheur Enterprise.