"Founded shooting"

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The University of Pennsylvania has an "Emergency Notification System", to which I subscribe, that "enables the University to quickly notify the Penn and surrounding Philadelphia community of critical information during significant emergencies or dangerous situations involving an immediate threat to the health or safety of students or employees occurring on campus". Early this morning I got a couple of messages from this system. The first one:

Police Activity in the area of 38 & spruce. Police have secured the scene. Please avoid the area.

And an update:

38th street continues to remain closed as Penn and Philadelphia Police continue to investigate a founded shooting in the area.

It was not clear to me what the phrase "founded shooting" means. At first I thought it might be a typo — but Google finds a number of other examples.

However, all of the relevant results seem to be from Philadelphia — for example this 2012 photo, or this 2017 court case.

And none of the online dictionaries I checked seem to have an entry for this phrase, or a meaning for founded that fits it well.

Maybe a "founded shooting" is one where a victim has actually been found, as opposed to a reported shooting — like a "well-founded hypothesis" without the well- part. But is it a term limited to Philadelphia law enforcement usage?

(As of 6:53am, another text informed me that it was "All clear in the area of S 38th/ Spruce St.", and therefore "You may resume normal activity".)

Screenshot from the DPS web site (emphasis added):


  1. Tyler Moore said,

    June 18, 2022 @ 6:23 am

    Same question – did you ever figure out what a founded shooting is?

  2. Dick Margulis said,

    June 18, 2022 @ 6:27 am


    Perhaps the sense is /confirmed/ or /established/, as in the report was well founded, a conclusion drawn after investigating a /reported/ shooting.

  3. languagehat said,

    June 18, 2022 @ 7:11 am

    I agree with Dick Margulis — that's got to be it.

  4. Scott Wilds said,

    June 18, 2022 @ 8:51 am

    I also subscribe and went on the same Google search. I think "established" makes sense.

    Contrast with "unfounded shooting" — Unconfirmed.

  5. Gregory Kusnick said,

    June 18, 2022 @ 8:52 am

    Also just guessing, but I'm wondering if "founded" could be a preliminary finding in the investigation of an officer-involved shooting, which may ultimately be determined to be "justified" or "unjustified".

  6. cameron said,

    June 18, 2022 @ 9:17 am

    hmm. weird lingo. perhaps meant to describe something intermediate between "reported" and "confirmed"

  7. Toby Dorsey said,

    June 18, 2022 @ 9:30 am

    This use of “founded” seems intended to mean roughly the same thing as “not unfounded,” that is, corroborated of confirmed.

    It reminds me of Jack Winter’s little gem, “How I Met My Wife”:


  8. cervantes said,

    June 18, 2022 @ 9:30 am

    I think this means, "as opposed to what turned out to be an unfounded report." The reason it seems puzzling is that "unfounded" is one of those words like "unhinged" and "disgruntled" that we normally only see in that negative form. We can't be hinged or gruntled, founded seems similarly strange. But think of it from the police perspective: they get reports, they check them out, they turn out either to be unfounded or . . . ?

    [(myl) Yes — that makes almost perfect sense (except that it's the report that's founded or unfounded, not the shooting…). But it's curious that this use of "founded" is apparently just a Philadelphia thing. ]

  9. David L said,

    June 18, 2022 @ 10:34 am

    I wonder if the shooter(s) departed the scene at a high rate of speed. That's usually what happens in these case, per police reports.

  10. Bloix said,

    June 18, 2022 @ 2:01 pm

    "Founded" on its own may be rare, but "well-founded" is common.

  11. Philip Anderson said,

    June 18, 2022 @ 4:36 pm

    Googling “unfounded shooting” gives stories about reported, rumoured or threatened shootings from other areas; so I assume founded is the local police jargon for the opposite, i.e. confirmed.

  12. Tyler Moore said,

    June 18, 2022 @ 9:30 pm

    Yeah i just somehow doubt they would use that term instead of "confirmed" or "likely" or "probable". Could it be that someone was "found dead" of a gunshot wound and that got shortened in the Philly PD lingo to "founded"? Not that that makes any more sense than the above but it's the only alternative i can think of. Does anyone know a Philly prosecutor or cop? The Philly-specific thing has me especially curious…

  13. Jon said,

    June 19, 2022 @ 3:02 am

    "I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled." ― P.G. Wodehouse, The Code of the Woosters.

  14. languagehat said,

    June 19, 2022 @ 9:10 am

    Yeah i just somehow doubt they would use that term instead of "confirmed" or "likely" or "probable".

    Why, because you're not familiar with it? There's plenty of hyperlocal jargon that seems weird to outsiders.

  15. Gregory Kusnick said,

    June 19, 2022 @ 10:28 am

    I'm not convinced that "founded" is being used here as a synonym for "confirmed"; it could indicate some intermediate degree of corroboration short of certainty.

    But whatever it means, it's not clear why "shooting" needs a modifier at all. It seems to me that almost all readers of a police report about "a shooting in the area" would take it to mean an actual shooting and not merely the rumor of one.

    So unless "founded" here is simply an instance of unthinking nerdview, it seems possible it was inserted deliberately for some obscure ass-covering reason, though I'm at a loss to guess what that might be.

  16. Philip Anderson said,

    June 19, 2022 @ 1:10 pm

    It seems pretty certain in this (Philly) example:

  17. Recidivist linguist said,

    June 19, 2022 @ 6:08 pm

    Here are a couple (there are more) of non-Philadelphia related uses of "founded"

    A clear explanation (supporting cervantes) of "founded reports" from the Des Moines (Iowa) Register June 24, 1997 p. 29

    Founded reports — those with some merit — are submitted for inclusion in MUFON's national data-base, Trout said. Last year, lowa had half a dozen founded reports.

    And for an older closely related use of "founded" from The State (Columbia, South Carolina) August 15, 1949 p. 10

    All of three founded criminal assault cases were cleared by arrest. Four such cases were reported, but one was unfounded. Other cases founded and cleared included: Aggravated assault, 10 founded, seven cleared: …

    And finally, an active use of "unfounded" from the Leaf-Chronicle (Clarksville, Tennessee) May 11, 1988 p. 14

    "We have closed our case and unfounded the assault," police spokesman Dee Anderson said.

    The citations are all from sources on newspapers.com (pay — sorry!)

  18. Killer said,

    June 20, 2022 @ 6:36 pm

    Might one ask the Philadelphia police to tell us what it means?

  19. Benjamin E. Orsatti said,

    June 21, 2022 @ 9:03 am

    Seems like the term might be social services lingo. A Childline Report (report of suspected child abuse) can exist in one of three states: Indicated (requiring further investigation), founded (e.g. sufficient for CYS to bring a charge against the Alleged Perpetrator or unfounded (eg invented report of ex-spouse).

  20. Chas Belov said,

    June 21, 2022 @ 4:03 pm

    I remember reading and enjoying Jack Winter’s “How I Met My Wife” in the New Yorker back when it came out. I shared it with an Italian acquaintance who was quite fluent in English and they found it unreadable.

  21. Garrett Riggs said,

    June 23, 2022 @ 12:41 pm

    As a faculty member, I bet Prof. Lieberman could make a call or send an emailto the university police and ask them about this. Hate to make more work for you, but it could be an interesting window into the argot of local law enforcement.

  22. Jim Hargan said,

    June 26, 2022 @ 12:29 pm

    Seventeen years of law enforcement here: I'd bet my eyeteeth that "founded" is an exact synonym for "confirmed". It sounds like something a cop would use, very precise but jargon-y. The reason to use it instead of "confirmed" is that "unfounded" has a very different meaning from "unconfirmed". "Unconfirmed" means, "We don't know if it happened," while "unfounded" means "We definitely know if it happened — it didn't." "Well-founded" is perfectly good English, but is not exactly synonymous with "founded." "Well-founded" means, "We have lots of evidence that it happened, but there is a possibility that it didn't."

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