A Q&A with Deb Tillett and Trevor Brooks of GunBail
By Henry Mortimer, Editor-at-Large
One thing every investor looks for in a startup founder is domain expertise. And when it comes to creating an app designed to eliminate illegal guns from Baltimore, Trevor Brooks corners the market on know-how.
“I was a product of the streets, the streets adopted me,” says Brooks, who grew up in Baltimore’s inner city and says he was given his first handgun “at the age of 12.”
And he knows first-hand how gun violence affects communities. As a young man, Brooks was arrested for his involvement in a gun-related homicide and spent 20 years behind bars. While incarcerated, Brooks says he read voraciously and educated himself in a number of areas, including finance, technology and the law. In fact, while reading The Daily Record one day he saw a slip opinion about a case similar to his own and used that information to have his conviction overturned.
He emerged from prison with a big idea: “To get illegal guns off the streets and save more lives.”
The problem, Brooks says, is three-fold: nearly all (more than 95%) gun-related homicides are committed with illegal guns; most arrestees can’t afford bail money, which can cost upwards of $10,000 or more; and the criminal justice system processes six times more criminals than it can imprison. So he founded GunBail, a patent-pending technology that incentivizes non-violent offenders to willingly turn in illegal guns in exchange for release.
How it works is relatively simple: you take a picture of a firearm using the GunBail app, specify an inmate and location, pay a $99 fee to ship the firearm to an approved location, and the arrestee can post bail as early as 48 hours later. The potential for financial success — if Brooks reaches his goal of permanently removing 10 million guns from circulation — is equally straightforward.
Yet Brooks believes his solution offers an ever greater payoff than disrupting the traditional bail-bond industry: “I’m hoping that other people living the life of despair that I once did can see [me] and aspire to do more for their community and be successful at it.”
Brooks sat down with Deb Tillett, president of the Emerging Technology Centers (ETC), to talk about his plans for GunBail, which recently completed the ETC’s AccelerateBaltimore program, and share his powerful story.
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