Gun-offender registry proposed

Bill would allow listing of home addresses of those convicted of firearm violations

July 17, 2007|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,sun reporter

In an effort to fight the city's spike in gun-related crime, Mayor Sheila Dixon yesterday introduced legislation that would let police - and possibly the public - know home addresses of people convicted of gun violations.

The bill is part of a larger anti-crime package that Dixon announced in May and is similar to measures have been being considered in cities around the country.

"The truth is we know the small group of people who are committing the bulk of these gun offenses," said Anthony McCarthy, a spokesman for the mayor. "Making the information public is just another tool for citizens and advocates to be able to identify violent offenders in their community."

The city's police union dismissed the legislation as "a waste of time" and as catering to election-year politics.

The measure would require everyone convicted of misdemeanor or felony gun crimes in the city to register their addresses and any aliases with the Police Department every six months. A violation would be a misdemeanor punishable by a year in prison and a $1,000 fine. Each day that an offender does not register would be considered a separate violation.

The way the bill is written, the Police Department can decide whether to publicly release the information, though McCarthy said that Dixon wants the information to be public - much like the state's existing sex-offender registry.

City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake said she would support public disclosure. "Communities have a right to know if they are living in the proximity to gun offenders," she said. "In a time when we are having an increase in shootings and the murder rate is a concern, it is about having more tools to protect communities," she said.

Deputy Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said the registry would be "valuable" for law enforcement and noted that between 40 percent and 50 percent of people arrested in homicide cases this year had gun convictions on their records. "It would be foolish of us not to pay attention to that," he said.

He said the information would go the beat police officers. "If we keep track of these guys, if we make officers aware of their existence, it is an excellent opportunity to keep guys in check," Bealefeld said.

There have been 174 homicides this year, compared with 147 last year at this time. Nonfatal shootings are also up, with 413 people shot this year, compared with 312 shot at this time last year, according to police statistics.

Paul M. Blair Jr., president of the police union, is concerned that the Police Department does not have the resources to start a new program. "How many people are we going to tie up trying to put this together?" he asked. "All you are doing is creating another bureaucracy, spending city money that will not save one life."

Rachel Parsons, with the National Rifle Association, declined to comment on the measure, saying she has not reviewed it.

The Baltimore measure is modeled after one implemented in New York City this year. Elected officials in Boston and Chicago have drafted legislation to establish similar registries.

It is too soon to know what, if any, effect the registry has had on crime in New York, said John Feinblatt, who is criminal justice coordinator for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

The registry was created there after officials realized that New York City gun offenders are four times more likely than other felons to be arrested for a homicide, Feinblatt said.

"I think this goes along with modern policing - using data and isolating people that create the greatest risk," Feinblatt said. "People who feel that they are being watched and closely monitored are less likely to recidivate."

annie.linskey@baltsun.com

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