New statewide dashboard aims to raise awareness of violent deaths

Investigators work at the scene of a homicide
Investigators work at the scene of a homicide at the intersection of Wayzata Street and Rice Street in St. Paul on Nov. 10.
Courtesy St. Paul Police Department | 2019

Minnesota Department of Health officials unveiled a new data dashboard Wednesday highlighting the causes and trends of violent deaths in the state and where they’re happening.

They said information gathered will be used to support more informed policy and practice decisions. While currently the data covers only the six-year period from 2015 to 2020 there are plans to update the information as more is collected. 

MDH epidemiologist Stefan Gingerich said although violence is associated with crime the dashboard doesn’t acknowledge that relationship. And other than deaths identified as homicides there’s no criminal activity overtly revealed in the data.  

“This dashboard is essentially visualizations of data that go into the Minnesota Violent Death Reporting System,” Gingerich said. “And that includes everything including suicide, homicide, law enforcement intervention, unintentional firearm deaths and death with undetermined manner, where violence may have played a role.” 

Victim’s perspective

Gingerich added that all the data “is viewed from the victim’s perspective.” 

“So, the backgrounds, the history, the relationships, the circumstances of those who have died, the decedents, not anyone else involved in their death,” he said. 

When asked what “law enforcement intervention” means Gingerich said the dashboard uses a fairly broad definition. 

“For the sake of this dashboard it involves any incident, any death where the decedent died as a result of any type of law enforcement officer acting in the line of duty,” Gingerich said. “This can be beat cops, that could be the sheriff, it could be university police, hospital police — any type of law enforcement.” 

He said what’s not included in that category is if an officer dies in the line of duty. 

Raising awareness

Gingerich is especially invested in the project because of his focus on the epidemiology of suicide and homicide and by extension firearms — which are most often involved in both in Minnesota.

He hopes the dashboard can be used to raise awareness of the need for gun safety, and to help prevent misuse of firearms.

Data captured from the dashboard shows that 55 percent of people who died by suicide had a current mental health issue, and almost 50 percent had a history of mental health treatment. Also, at the time of their deaths, 31 percent had alcohol in their systems.  

Mark Kinde is the manager for the injury and violence prevention section of MDH. He said one of the key features of this comprehensive tool is its intuitive interface. 

“It takes data that is sometimes hard to understand, and it puts it in words and pictures that you don't have to be an epidemiologist to get it,” said Kinde. “It's like ‘Wow! This is clear and this is understandable.’ I think that's going to make a difference for communities across the state.” 

Kinde said users can focus on their county or even their city. He said one of the things that surprised him most about the data captured by the dashboard was the high rates of death by suicide among young Indigenous men and older white men in Greater Minnesota.

“For me, those are calls to action. I don't want to sit here and let that happen. I want to be involved in trying to do what I can,” Kinde said.

Gingerich also points out anyone who is having suicidal thoughts can reach out to the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988. It’s available 24 hours a day 365 days a year. The number also accepts texts.    

To learn more about the dashboard visit: Minnesota Violent Death Reporting System (MNVDRS) Dashboard