Stemming a violent tide
Published: Saturday, January 26, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 26, 2008 at 12:08 a.m.
The Gainesville Police Department's Tactical Impact Unit is trying to make a dent in violent crime in the city.
Getting gusn off the streets
- The Gainesville Police Department's Tactical Impact Unit recovered 21 guns in the past three months.
- The agency collected 226 guns during criminal investigations last year.
- The Tactical Impact Unit's mission is to combat violent crime in the city.
In the evening and throughout the night, officers with the team gather information from residents, sources and suspects, and follow leads that could prevent violent crimes before they occur.
They investigate reports from alleged drug activity to weapons violations, often factors that result in more violent crimes such as robberies.
The unit's work shows it is making a difference but also highlights what police say appears to be an ongoing problem with guns in the city.
TIU officers have issued more than 100 felony charges since the group was launched in late 2007.
And, in about three months, its 10 officers have confiscated 21 guns, said TIU commander Lt. Rob Koehler.
The police agency as a whole collected 226 guns during criminal investigations last year, meaning the team gathered about 11 percent of the department's confiscated firearms, said police spokesman Lt. Keith Kameg.
Officers believe the numbers confirm what police say they've been seeing - more guns on Gainesville streets.
"I really feel like handguns are becoming accessories in certain areas," Koehler said. "You're almost expected in certain groups to have a cell phone. It's kind of getting that way in certain areas where a gun is a status symbol. People tie some of their identity to a gun."
Kameg said police around the country are worried about the number and type of weapons they've come across during investigations.
Weapons are turning up in all kinds of cases, from drug investigations to traffic stops, he said.
"Where we used to see fights when I was a rookie police officer, now we see, 'You disrespected me. I'm going to shoot at you,' " Kameg said. He added: "It seems right now that many of the street-level drug dealers are carrying guns."
The presence of more powerful guns on the streets has officers changing how they approach patrolling, Kameg said.
More police agencies around the country are trying to get their officers trained and armed with semiautomatic rifles, which they say more criminals are carrying.
Tips and complaints from different sources have helped lead TIU officers to locating weapons.
"We farm that information and mine that information," sometimes forwarding it to other sections of the department or other law enforcement agencies, Koehler said.
Koehler said some of the guns recovered have been stolen, but others have been bought legally.
The main age groups who have the weapons are in their late teens or early 30s, he said. Most of the weapons confiscated have been handguns. One was an AK-47.
Koehler said his unit has information on many more guns in the community than the 21 already confiscated.
Both Kameg and Koehler said more young people carrying guns and treating them as decorations or status symbols can lead to deadly outcomes.
"You've got people who don't necessarily have all the coping skills that they should," Koehler said. "(A gun) is a quick argument settler. Maybe you shoot it and make them quiet forever."
In November, a Tallahassee man died when he was shot in the head during a dispute in the Southwest Downtown Parking Garage.
One man pulled out a gun and shot Andrew Arosemena, 22, after Arosemena had told people in a car blocking his vehicle's path to move. Two men are in custody in connection with the case.
Kameg said this case seems to fit the scenario officers are seeing more and more.
"It wouldn't shock us if that was the mentality," he said. "There is rarely a good reason to bring a gun out when you are mad. Yet we see that. We are seeing it every day."
Lise Fisher can be reached at 352-374-5092 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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