Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Public safety

Renewed effort to seize guns working in St. Petersburg, chief says

ST. PETERSBURG — Police Chief Chuck Harmon stood behind a lectern in January and held up a .45-caliber pistol equipped with an extended magazine that was a foot long.

It baffled him. So much so that he cited it as a reason why he was instructing his officers to step up their efforts to get guns off the streets.

On Monday, Harmon again faced a wall of TV cameras and reporters. He gave an update on the program and the department's revived gun bounty program, which he called a success so far.

Then he plucked a large black object from a table nearly covered in guns that have been seized. The high-capacity magazine, designed for a shot gun, could hold 20 rounds.

"I'd never seen one of these before," Harmon said. "Look at what we're getting off the streets. These aren't ordinary handguns that people are using to protect themselves. These are way beyond that. These are out there."

For the past few years, the Police Department typically has seized about one gun a day, spokesman Bill Proffitt said.

But in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, law enforcement agencies all across the country have made guns a priority. During a six-week period ending on Feb. 28, St. Petersburg police used grant money to fund a bigger, better, targeted push to get weapons off the streets.

"We got about twice as many as we had the same time last year," Harmon said.

Officers confiscated 120 guns, Harmon said. Of those, 80 were directly related to criminal investigations that resulted in 34 arrests. They included a gun taken from the backpack of a Gibbs High School student and a cache of weapons found in the home of a tattoo shop owner now facing federal weapons charges.

"This is amazing," Mayor Bill Foster said, looking at the spread of weapons, "amazing and mortifying at the same time. It's kind of an eye-opener for me."

St. Petersburg's approach has been a multifaceted, focusing on school safety, education and enforcement.

The biggest impact, Harmon said, came from partnerships with other agencies and a shift in focus. Officers teamed up with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which resulted in the arrest of the tattoo shop owner. They also started going on home checks with probation and parole officers from the Department of Corrections, resulting in seven firearms being taken from felons. The department's own vice and narcotics detectives seized 43 guns while serving just eight search warrants.

Officials also embarked on a massive public relations push to reintroduce residents to the largely dormant gun bounty program that began in 2009 after the death of 8-year-old Paris Whitehead-Hamilton during a drive-by shooting.

Tipsters, through Crime Stoppers, must offer information that leads to the recovery of a gun, an arrest and a weapons charge. In exchange, they get cash — $1,500 for assault weapons and $1,000 for all other firearms.

Harmon conceded that so far, only one or two people have gotten the bounty money. But he said getting the word out has been just as valuable because people are calling police with gun tips even if they don't go through Crime Stoppers.

Police also visited the city's 56 public and private schools and offered to help them study their campuses to increase safety. Harmon said he believes schools are safer because of it.

The $47,000 grant that partly fueled this latest push is gone. But the partnerships and many of the tactics will continue, officials vowed.

"I think it's a small dent, unfortunately," Harmon said. "We're not stopping."

Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643.

 
Comments
Cops question viral video about human trafficking at Pinellas Publix

Cops question viral video about human trafficking at Pinellas Publix

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office is setting the record straight about a viral Facebook video posted by a Dunedin woman who claimed she almost fell victim to human trafficking. Lynne Knowles took to Facebook to share what happened to her at the Pu...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office launches Facebook, Twitter accounts in Spanish

Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office launches Facebook, Twitter accounts in Spanish

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office now has Facebook and Twitter accounts in Spanish.The agency celebrated the official launch of the accounts on Wednesday. Sheriff Chad Chronister said the goal is to connect with an increasing number of...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Pasco man taken down by K9 after attempting to kidnap infant girl, putting schools on lockdown

Pasco man taken down by K9 after attempting to kidnap infant girl, putting schools on lockdown

NEW PORT RICHEY — A few hours before he was lying on his back in the woods, shirtless with a dog’s jaws clamped around his arm, Kevin Wilson climbed into a second-story window and tried to kidnap a 6-month-old baby girl, according to the ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Fate of FEMA leader Brock Long in doubt as Florence cleanup continues

Fate of FEMA leader Brock Long in doubt as Florence cleanup continues

WASHINGTON — While Hurricane Florence barreled through the Carolinas, a different type of storm was brewing within the federal disaster relief agency tasked with responding to the fallout.The fate of Brock Long, the head of the Federal Emergen...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Largo names new fire chief

Largo names new fire chief

LARGO — After two nationwide searches that produced 119 applicants, City Manager Henry Schubert didn’t have to look far to find his new fire chief.Schubert announced recently that Chad Pittman, deputy chief of Palm Harbor Fire Rescue, w...
Published: 09/19/18
Police release name of man shot Tuesday at Tampa apartment complex

Police release name of man shot Tuesday at Tampa apartment complex

TAMPA — An 18-year-old man was critically injured Tuesday when he was shot at an apartment complex in northeast Tampa.Officers responded about 2:30 a.m. to a call about an unknown emergency at the Silver Oaks Apartments, 4200 Kenneth Court, Ta...
Published: 09/18/18
Fatal punch on Gandy median leads to manslaughter charge in Tampa muralist’s death

Fatal punch on Gandy median leads to manslaughter charge in Tampa muralist’s death

TAMPA — Police are bringing manslaughter charges against a Tampa man accused of throwing a fatal punch last April at well-known local muralist Matt Callahan.The suspect, 34-year-old Keith Mauga of Tampa, already is serving five years for aggravated b...
Published: 09/18/18
Police: Tarpon Springs man killed crossing road in wheelchair

Police: Tarpon Springs man killed crossing road in wheelchair

TARPON SPRINGS — A 58-year-old man was killed Monday after a car struck him as he was crossing the road in a wheelchair.According to Tarpon Springs police, Jon Pendleton, operating a manual wheelchair, started to cross U.S. 19 near Martin Luther King...
Published: 09/18/18
Fort Myers brothers wanted for stealing trailers caught in Pasco, taken down by K9

Fort Myers brothers wanted for stealing trailers caught in Pasco, taken down by K9

LAND O'LAKES — It started just after 9:30 Saturday night. Detectives from the Lee County Sheriff’s Office called counterparts in Pasco. Suspects they had been following through several counties might be hitting a trailer lot along Land O...
Published: 09/18/18
A gopher tortoise has been found with pink painted nails and shell

A gopher tortoise has been found with pink painted nails and shell

Photos once again are surfacing again on social media after someone painted a gopher tortoise. In a post on its Facebook page, the non-profit Owl's Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife in Odessa showed photos of a rescued female tortoise -- which is a threat...
Published: 09/18/18