Initiative nets 120 guns, 100 arrests

City police focus on shooters the night of New Year's Eve

`This is a big problem'

January 03, 2002|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

The police take from a night of New Year's revelry is a telling microcosm of the firepower wielded on Baltimore streets.

In a few hours of work late Monday and early Tuesday, Baltimore police arrested nearly 100 people shooting and carrying 120 firearms.

Officers seized Lugers, Rugers, Berettas, Smith & Wessons, Taurases and an assortment of other brands.

They seized revolvers and semiautomatic pistols - beat-up and shiny - shotguns, sawed-off shotguns, high-powered rifles (one with a laser sight) and even a World War II-era machine gun.

"This is a big problem," Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris said during a news conference yesterday. "This is just a little snapshot" of what people carry every day.

In all, police seized 29 long guns, six sawed-off shotguns, 38 revolvers and 47 pistols Monday night and Tuesday morning in Operation Auld Lang Syne.

Officers usually have a relatively tough time seizing firearms, which gunmen often stash in bushes and houses to avoid detection.

But in a dubious Baltimore tradition, people take to the streets to celebrate the new year with gunfire.

"They do come right out and do the little celebratory shot and think that's fine," said Col. Kenneth Blackwell, chief of the department's patrol division. "We all know it's not."

Police seized guns in all nine police districts, according to preliminary statistics provided by the department. Several had been reported stolen.

Police arrested one man shooting a gun wanted on attempted-murder charges, they said.

Others arrested included a 69-year-old man and a 14-year-old boy. Some of those arrested had extensive criminal records for crimes of violence, police said.

"They didn't just get weapons for the New Year's Eve celebration," Blackwell said.

The guns fell mostly in line with what police seize every day, said Ed Koch, director of the crime laboratory.

Through Nov. 1, police had seized 2,560 firearms, Koch said.

During the next few days, police firearms examiners plan to test the guns to see if they might have been used in other crimes.

For the last three years, police have been stepping up patrols on New Year's Eve to catch people participating in what has become an annual rite.

On New Year's Eve 2000, police seized 101 guns, and in 1999, they seized 122, they said.

In the past, police said, the gunfire had started about 10 p.m. and continued several hours into the new year.

This week, the shooting started about 15 minutes before midnight and continued only a few minutes after the fireworks ended at the Inner Harbor, police officials said.

Norris said that before he joined the department in 2000, officers were told by police commanders not to go on the streets to confiscate guns - which might have contributed to the city's Wild West mentality on New Year's Eve.

"There were no police on the streets," the commissioner said. "There was no one on patrol for about an hour."

The initiative wasn't without its dangers.

Officers shot three men in two incidents, after the men pointed the guns at them, police officials said.

Norris said yesterday that the officers acted appropriately.

A 19-year-old woman was struck by a bullet that fell from the sky while she attended the New Year's Eve festivities at the Inner Harbor.

Authorities initially had thought that Terra Diggs of the 1800 block of Aisquith St. had been struck by debris from the fireworks. They learned that she had been struck by a .45-caliber bullet after doctors removed it from her forehead at the hospital, police said.

Diggs was treated at Maryland Shock Trauma Center and released.

Police said the bullet could have been fired from as far away from the Inner Harbor as Johns Hopkins Hospital. It could have been traveling as fast as 300 feet per second, they said.

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