1,000 city police to try to stop celebratory New Year's gunfire

December 30, 2004|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

Revelers who plan to bring in the new year with a blaze of gunfire should beware - more than 1,000 Baltimore police officers will patrolling the streets, many looking for people firing shots into the air at midnight.

City police once did little to discourage the tradition, but the city has been cracking down on celebratory gunfire since at least New Year's Eve 1999. Tomorrow night, about three times the typical number of officers will be on patrol as midnight approaches. Many will be dispatched to areas where heavy gunfire was reported last year, police said yesterday.

Some of the extra officers will also be posted from Federal Hill to Canton, where about 350,000 people are expected to watch the city's fireworks display near the Inner Harbor.

"Leave the guns inside," said Acting Deputy Commissioner J. Charles Gutberlet III. "If you want to make some noise, come out with the pots and pans."

There were about 150 reports of gunfire around midnight last year, and police seized more than 40 weapons, Gutberlet said. One officer was shot in the hip and injured while trying to stop an East Baltimore reveler from firing a gun.

Court officials will be available this year through the night and early morning so that officers can quickly obtain search warrants and arrest gun wielders who flee into houses, Gutberlet said.

Police started cracking down on the gunfire after several incidents in which people were hit by bullets apparently shot into the air. "That bullet goes up," Gutberlet said. "It must go down somewhere."

The problem had gotten so bad that as 1999 turned into 2000, one officer said into his police radio: "Be advised, in addition to all the gunfire, we have fireworks."

Those firing celebratory shots with unregistered guns are typically charged with felony handgun violations, said Officer Troy Harris, a police spokesman. If the shots come from a legal weapon, the person firing it is typically charged with misdemeanor reckless endangerment.

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