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Wednesday, Jul 23, 2014

St. Pete gun bounty program yields mixed results

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ST. PETERSBURG -

A six-week gun bounty program announced in the wake of the Newton school shooting yielded mixed results, police said today.

Police recovered 120 firearms and more than 4,000 rounds of ammunition, while making 34 arrests and seizing nearly $74,000.

But investigators received only one tip through Crime Stoppers that led to an arrest and the seizure of a handgun, St. Petersburg Police Chief Chuck Harmon said.

Under the program, announced in January, anyone who provided information leading to the confiscation of an assault rifle and an arrest would get $1,500 through the Crime Stoppers program. Information leading to a handgun would net $1,000.

“It didn’t happen,” Harmon said following a press conference attended by Mayor Bill Foster, federal agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and representatives from the state Department of Corrections.

What did work was a new partnership between probation officers and police. Lists were drawn up of drug offenders on probation and of offenders with violent criminal histories on probation, said police Maj. Mike Kovacsev. Then visits were made to their homes.

By themselves, probation officers “may not feel comfortable” going into their charges’ homes and conducting searches, Kovacsev said. But it’s a different story if they have two uniformed police officers backing them up.

This new approach led to 56 searches of people under the supervision of the state Department of Corrections and 13 arrests on probation-violation charges, some of them involving firearm and drug possession, Kovacsev said. In addition, more than $20,000 was seized, along with seven firearms.

Another success came from a new focus by the police department’s vice and narcotics division, Harmon said. Usually concerned exclusively with drugs, investigators honed in on cases involving firearms, concentrating on information they hoped would lead them to the confiscation of weapons, the chief said.

Detectives with the unit executed 15 search warrants, with eight resulting in the seizure of 43 firearms. Sixteen people were arrested and more than $54,000 seized, according to a three-page executive summary.

While the Crime Stoppers program proved to be a bust, the department did receive tips from confidential informants, along with information from officers on the street, leading to four arrests and the recovery of 18 firearms, Kovacsev said.

Though the Crime Stoppers effort netted only one arrest, police did receive a lot more tips. Police received 18 tips during their six-week effort – more than the 12 that came in all of last year. However, that increase in tips did not lead to more arrests or gun seizures.


Another effort that fizzled was a sort of gun turn-in program, where residents could turn in guns to the department but not receive any money in return, as is the case with so-called gun buy-back programs. Only 14 were turned in, Harmon said.


sthompson@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-6504

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