City Addicted to Gun Habit


November 21, 2005, 10:16 AM

City addicted to a gun habit

But police believe their latest campaign can cut crime by aggressively snaring illegal weapons

Patrick Flanigan
Staff writer

(November 20, 2005) Two days after Rochester police Sgt. Scott Peters' squad arrested one man on a gun-possession charge, they arrested another one. And that second man was wanted on an outstanding warrant accusing him of carrying two other guns.

"One guy gave us a pretty good fight, and we didn't know he had a gun until after we put the handcuffs on him," said Peters, commander of a squad engaged in an anti-crime initiative called Operation Law and Order. "He made no bones about it. He said: 'Of course, I carry a gun. People want to kill me.'"

Police cheer each recovery of a "crime gun." But crime statistics obtained by the Democrat and Chronicle show that the number of guns taken off Rochester's streets fell dramatically from 1999 to 2002 while at the same time gun crimes spiked, peaking in 2003, which saw a near-record 57 homicides.

In 2002, police recovered 427 illegal guns, a 33.5 percent decrease from the 642 guns recovered in 1999.

At the same time, the number of serious crimes involving the use of a firearm jumped 27.8 percent, from 493 to 630 and peaked at 827 in 2003.

Since then, gun recoveries have begun to rebound, while gun crimes, despite several high-profile homicides this year, are declining.

A new effort this year, Operation Law and Order, intends to take even more illegal guns off the street. Of the 453 guns that had been seized by the beginning of this month, 184 had been recovered since the operation was launched in mid-July.

"You can't say that when you take 200 guns off the street that you saved 200 lives, but we know that every gun represents a potential homicide or assault," said acting Police Chief Cedric Alexander. "So it's not unreasonable to believe that if you take more guns off the street, violent crime is going to go down."

Drugs and guns

Serious crimes are those crimes tracked by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to measure crime rates in U.S. cities. Called "Part 1 crimes," they are murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, robbery, larceny, arson and motor-vehicle theft. While it's nearly impossible to say how many illegal guns are circulating on Rochester's streets, experts say most are tied to the drug trade. But that link goes beyond the stereotype of dealers engaged in turf wars, said David Kennedy, a criminologist and professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

Dealers do carry guns, he said. And Rochester seems to have a large population of armed robbers who target drug sellers, which gives the dealers even more incentive to carry guns.

But in many cases, Kennedy said, shootings are tied to misguided ideas about respect. An otherwise trivial argument between two men ends in gunfire simply because friends are watching, or one of the men believed he'd be shot if he didn't shoot first. The victim's friends then retaliate, prompting more shootings.

"It reaches a point where this stuff just drives itself," Kennedy said. "The more shootings you have, the more retaliation you have and it becomes a cycle that lasts for quite some time. The tragedy is, even those involved in it say this is crazy."

Where guns come from

Illegal guns come from a variety of sources. In some cases, residents of states where it's easy to buy several guns at a time and no records of the purchase are kept act as "straw purchasers" who buy guns for people from more gun-restrictive states such as New York.

But authorities say about 75 percent of the illegal guns seized by Rochester police each year are traced back to New York residents who either lost them or reported them stolen.

Mike Lawandus, an agent in charge of the Rochester office of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said that sometimes the original owner or a family member develops a drug habit and trades a gun for drugs.

"Guns have an instant value on the street," he said. "Sometimes we tell people we found their gun and they didn't even know it was missing."

Of the roughly 1,000 guns the Rochester Police Department collects each year, about half are considered "crime guns," or those used during a crime or found in such suspicious places as a vacant drug house.

The other guns are most often those that are checked into the property room for "safe keeping," such as when a permitted gun owner dies and no other family member has a permit, or if a legal owner has been issued an order of protection after a domestic-violence complaint.

The Rochester Police Department holds the guns collected for different lengths of time depending on how they were recovered. Many safe-keeping guns are returned to their original owner, as are stolen guns when there is a police report on file somewhere. Guns that were used in a murder are kept indefinitely, while those used in other crimes are held until the defendant's appeals are exhausted. About 500 to 700 guns are purged from the collection each year by melting them at a foundry.

In most years, the city's homicide rate ranks among the highest in the state, with about 70 percent of the slayings linked to firearms.

This year has been a particularly violent year, and guns have played a significant role in the bloodshed. Of the 48 homicides to date, 36 victims were shot, including five under the age of 17. And several more children including two toddler-age boys have survived shootings.

Lost, altered lives

"A lot of these are cases that used to be settled with a punch in the nose," said District Attorney Michael C. Green. "I'd much rather have people punching each other in the nose, because when you have people punching each other, you don't have 2-year-olds getting shot." Even shootings that don't result in a homicide can severely diminish the life of a victim. Markiest Griffin is still recovering after being shot July 5 in the buttock.

Griffin, 21, was studying physical education at Monroe Community College and had been invited to try out for a basketball scholarship at the University of Buffalo. He was scheduled to begin work as a coach at the Edgerton Recreation Center the day after he was shot.

Now he can't walk more than 20 feet at a time, and his diet is limited to soft foods because the bullet damaged his intestines and bladder.

"I can't work, I can't go to school," Griffin said. "I can't play basketball."

Griffin said he has no idea why he was shot. He said he was eating cake with friends on a porch when someone emerged from the bushes and started shooting at them. He expects to recover eventually, but these days he spends most of his time inside his house on Ames Street, a short walk from the site where a 14-year-old Stacy Long was shot to death last month.

"It's getting crazy out here," Griffin said. "It's getting real. I don't even go outside that much because if something happened, I couldn't run."

Restoring law and order

Many of this year's gun seizures are the result of a strategy that places some of the best trained, most experienced police officers in parts of the city where analysts have detected crime patterns that might escape casual observation, such as reports of gunshots.

Operation Law and Order sends officers who recognize opportunities to search cars, people or vacant buildings into parts of the city where the data indicates they are most likely to find guns or drugs.

"If we put ourselves in the areas where we know people are using firearms, it's highly predictable that the subjects we come into contact with are going to be in possession of a weapon," Alexander said. "It's science meets police experience. It's proactive policing."

Those arrests are then followed by vigorous prosecution, Green said. His office has adopted a "no plea" policy, in which prosecutors won't accept any plea agreements that don't result in state prison sentences for people who carry guns.

Fear on the streets

John Klofas, a criminologist at the Rochester Institute of Technology, said these strategies can alter the behavior of those who carry guns.

"They're more afraid of what's on the street than of being arrested," he said. "The task for police is to reverse that equation."

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November 21, 2005, 11:31 AM
Addicted to guns? Are they "shooting" the guns, or are they pulling the bullets and snorting the powder :confused: :rolleyes:

November 21, 2005, 11:56 AM
"You can't say that when you take 200 guns off the street that you saved 200 lives, but we know that every gun represents a potential homicide or assault,"

is it jsut me or are they saying that every gun is evil and is used for wrong doing?

November 21, 2005, 12:01 PM
If one did that then sneezed......Methinks that would cut down on crime!:evil:

November 21, 2005, 12:20 PM
Check out Kennesaw , Ga.
Almost ZERO crime and proud of it. :neener:

November 21, 2005, 12:37 PM
I wrote a letter to them expressing my displeasure about how they are labeling guns in general as evil, giving legalistic qualities to inanimate objects, and just missing the point in general re: Rochester NY. Crime is the issue, not the guns.

I encourage anyone with some free time on their hands to draft up a one or two paragraph email for the author of that article too.

November 21, 2005, 12:42 PM
is it jsut me or are they saying that every gun is evil and is used for wrong doing?

That's exactly what they're saying... as if melting all the guns down would suddenly make all the criminals into productive citizens.

November 21, 2005, 12:48 PM
"He made no bones about it. He said: 'Of course, I carry a gun. People want to kill me.'"
That's a logical statement, I think.

November 21, 2005, 01:11 PM
I personally would question this guy's credibility, or the credibility of his sources. According to him, 75% of the illegal guns were stolen. Nationwide, however according to the BATF report, only 24.9% of illegal guns are traced to having been stolen. It sounds to me like he's making up statistics as he goes along.

November 21, 2005, 01:19 PM
Perfect reason to write him an email! :) I've gotten sick of reading bad reporting in this paper over the years. Problem is, my one letter never makes a difference.

Standing Wolf
November 21, 2005, 09:10 PM
is it jsut me or are they saying that every gun is evil and is used for wrong doing?

Nope, it's not you. I'm sure the "newspaper" is just paving the way for the next example of legislative anti-Second Amendment bigotry.

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