Sunday, March 2, 2003

Kids and crime


Track down guns as well as the drugs

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Police have not yet recovered the gun a 13-year-old boy used to shoot three teens, killing one, in North Fairmount on Feb. 20.

But I'm sure they'd like to know what I'd like to know: How did that gun get into that boy's hand?

It's a cruel reality that in most poor black neighborhoods, it's easier to get a gun than it is to get a good education or a decent job. Too many African-American youths are arming themselves.

Law enforcers need to target the flow of guns, in addition to drugs.

Police have made progress on drugs. Major roundups have landed dozens of street-level, easy-to-see drug dealers in jail. Dozens of guns have been confiscated.

But we all know it's not enough. I didn't see the word "kingpin" in any of the police press releases. We've yet to touch most of the guys behind the guys on the street, much less the people arming them.

Last year Cincinnati police seized or recovered 1,200 guns. The year before it collected 1,100 - significantly more than the usual 800 to 900 in a typical year, says Lt. Steve Kramer of the Cincinnati Police Department.

The bump in gun recoveries may be because the city and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have each devoted agents and officers to gun investigations in the past year or so, Kramer says.

Cincinnati police put three detectives on firearms investigations, and the ATF added three agents for a total of six. The ATF has only nine agents serving 24 counties in Ohio and Northern Kentucky.

So far, the efforts have resulted in 56 criminal gun cases going to federal court, where they'll garner hefty federal prison sentences. Almost all those cases, though, involved gun holders committing crimes, not gun suppliers selling weapons, Kramer says. Only a few cases were based on undercover officers or informants making illegal gun buys.

Most people supplying guns to high-crime neighborhoods are hard to catch, being partially shielded by liberal gun laws in Ohio and nationwide.

Unlike drugs, it's legal for adults to buy guns if they don't have a felony conviction, a protective order against them or mental illness. Licensed dealers keep very little information about purchasers and send information to law enforcement only if there are sizeable gun purchases (like 10 or more at once). Many guns also are sold at gun shows, flea markets and private sales, generating no paperwork.

Time-to-crime

Ohio is considered a supply state for illegal guns, Kramer says, based on the number of guns used in crimes nationwide but traced back here.

Only in the past three years or so has law enforcement in Cincinnati had the gear to trace guns recovered in crimes, says Christopher Tardio, the ATF's resident agent in charge.

Breakdowns aren't available for 2002 or 2001, but in 2000, Cincinnati police traced 877 guns used in crimes. More than 82 percent of those guns changed hands at least once before the crime.

According to an ATF report, Cincinnati's guns make it from legal sale to a crime faster than the national average. About 38 percent of locally traced crime guns are 3 years old or less.

The shorter "time-to-crime" indicates illegal diversion involving new guns, the ATF wrote.

Of Cincinnati's recovered crime guns, 65 percent were wielded by adults age 25 and older, 28 percent were used by adults age 18 to 24, and 6 percent were held by juveniles.

Expect the 2001 and 2002 stats to document more young gun users, law officers say. Drugs and guns may drive Cincinnati's murder rate; but too often young people are at the wheel.

E-mail damos@enquirer.com, or call 768-8395.




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