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Police Reviving Program To Recover Illegal Guns

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By Clarence Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 12, 2007

D.C. police Sgt. Curt Sloan held Polaroid snapshots of the 98 guns he helped recover in the mid-1990s, memories of past police glory.

He pointed to pictures of an extended-barrel MAC-10 machine gun and a tommy gun, the cylinder-fed machine gun known best from the Prohibition days of Al Capone. They represented a fraction of the 1,308 guns that the city's firearms recovery units yanked from D.C. streets in 18 months from 1995 to 1997.

"Somebody is alive today because of all this," he said.

Later this month, Sloan and about 30 city officers will get the chance to relive that success as D.C. police reestablish the gun-recovery unit. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier and other law enforcement officials hope it will get hundreds of guns off city streets, curb violent crime and lead to more prosecutions of gun cases.

Former chief Charles H. Ramsey dismantled the unit in the late 1990s, putting more uniformed officers on the streets instead.

The new unit signals a shift in how Lanier plans to reduce homicides, which are up about 7 percent from last year, as she crafts her own crime-fighting strategies for the 3,900-member force she has led since January. Lanier joined Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) in announcing plans yesterday to add foot patrols, calling that tactic "old-fashioned policing at its best."

The patrols are meant to increase police visibility and strengthen community ties. The gun mission is targeted toward reducing the number of shootings in the city; despite one of the strictest gun laws in the country, weapons remain in plentiful supply. Last year under Ramsey, police confiscated more than 2,600 guns. Lanier wants to go deeper to get to the source of the firearms.

"It's ridiculous. There are way too many guns out there," Lanier said in an interview.

About 80 percent of the city's slayings are committed with guns, said Inspector Brian Bray of the narcotics and special investigations unit, who will lead the new group.

After the gun-recovery unit was disbanded in the 1990s, he said, homicides were basically the only cases in which guns were seriously investigated by D.C. police. So while city officers continued to recover more than 2,000 guns annually in recent years, investigators rarely tracked where the weapons were coming from and who the leading dealers were.

"Now we're going to debrief'' suspects on where the guns came from, Bray said. "We're going to go after everything we can. The interview is the key."

The unit will operate under the "plus-one rule." That means that if a suspect is caught with a gun or ammunition, an officer should assume that the suspect has more and police should apply for a search warrant.

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