“These guys are not afraid to ride around with guns,” said Prince George’s Deputy Police Chief Craig Howard, who has lobbied for the legislation. “They’re not afraid to get locked up. So hopefully, this will give us a little teeth.”
If the measure passes, as expected, the county would join a growing number of local governments regionally and across the nation that allow police to monitor gun offenders.
In recent years, Baltimore and the District — following the lead of New York City — have created such registries and assigned detectives to visit the homes of convicted gun offenders, authorities said. Connecticut legislators discussed enacting such a registry statewide last year, but no bill came to a vote, and the issue did not come up during this year’s legislative session, authorities said.
“I think it’s gaining some popularity and people [are] considering this as a useful strategy,” said Daniel Webster, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore and co-director of the school’s Center for Gun Policy and Research. “In many, if not most, U.S. cities, gun violence is one of the top public safety concerns, and one thing that more agencies want to do is kind of keep tabs on where these offenders are.”
The goal, police say, is to give gun offenders — who, research shows, are likely to commit more serious crimes — an extra incentive to stay out of trouble. The registry is not public, but it “puts them on notice that the police department is keeping an eye on them,” Howard said.
Although the registries are in their infancy, there is some evidence they are effective.
In the District, which launched its registry in December 2009, only nine of the 1,148 offenders have been arrested again on gun counts, although others may have been accused of different offenses, said D.C. police Capt. Brian Harris. In Baltimore, which began its registry in 2008, fewer than 5 percent of the 1,669 gun offenders whose names have been on the registry have been arrested on new gun charges, and just 25 percent have been arrested on any new charges, said Sheryl Goldstein, the director of the Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice.
According to a recent Pew Center on the States study on recidivism — which looked in part at inmates released in 2004 — 43.3 percent were jailed again in three years.
The gun-offender registry has “definitely had an impact,” Goldstein said. “The recidivism rate of people who are registered as gun offenders is lower than the national average significantly, and the rate of re-offending with guns is very, very small.”