An itemized bill for murder

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By G.W. Schulz

Both the Contra Costa Times and the Sacramento Bee ran large Sunday features on their front pages chronicling gun violence in the East Bay and Sacramento County. The Bee published part two of a series on Monday.

The lengthy Times piece focuses on the costs everyone absorbs as a result of shooting deaths and injuries. Reporters Karl Fischer and Sara Steffens follow the bodies and perpetrators through the county court and hospital systems and lay out the bill to taxpayers. The message is this: “You may think the carnage remains mostly in the violent city of Richmond far away from your fortified living room. But you’re paying the price anyway, whether you’re intimately familiar with the tragedy of gun violence or not.”

A trip in a Contra Costa County ambulance can cost $1,300, according to the story. A life-flight helicopter ambulance can cost $15,000. The cost of treating gunshot patients at the John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek more than doubled between 2004 and 2005 to $25.7 million. Most patients can’t pay, so the costs translate to higher premiums for those who can afford insurance.

The most startling statistic of all from the story, perhaps, is the number of fatal and nonfatal gunshot injuries combined at John Muir alone – 158 last year. 213 nonfatal shootings occurred in Richmond during the same period.

Then there’s the cost of an autopsy. Then the state Victim’s Compensation Fund, which paid out $3 million to Alameda County residents between 2004 and 2005. A single prosecution can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

From the story’s punchy lede:

“Every click of a trigger comes with a cost. That’s obvious in the flatland neighborhoods of Richmond and Oakland, where people live with danger and disruption every day. That’s not so obvious in the distant suburbs, where most view troubles through the filter of the evening news. But everyone pays …”

The Bee’s Sunday story from Phillip Reese is laced through with several anecdotes detailing gang-related murders in impoverished south Sacramento County, where 23 homicides remain unsolved; that number reaches 70 countywide, according to the piece. Jurisdiction in south Sacramento falls on the sheriff’s department, which has the worst homicide-clearance rate in the county. They’re complaining about the same problems our cops do – no witnesses. The locals, nonetheless, are wondering about the county’s priorities:

“Because so many killings remain unsolved, some south Sacramento families feel abandoned. Would things be different, they ask, if these killings were happening in Gold River, or if a business executive were shot? ‘When the highway patrolman got shot in Woodland, everyone was on it and they got him the next day,’ said Andy Vang, referring to the November slaying of a state trooper during a traffic stop. Vang’s cousin was killed in south Sacramento in January 2005 and his killer has never been found.”

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