Investigator to take aim at firearms

Police get grant to hire help fighting violence

October 17, 2007|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,SUN REPORTER

Howard County police are hiring a full-time firearms investigator to tackle the growing number of robberies and assaults being committed with guns.

From 2003 to 2006, assaults and robberies committed with firearms in Howard County rose 41 percent. There were 172 in 2006 compared with 122 in 2003.

"Nationally, we're seeing the same types of trends, but we don't want to be where the state and nation are," said Capt. Tara Nelson, commander of the county's criminal investigations bureau.

The position is being underwritten by an $89,000 grant from the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention.

The investigator will serve as a coordinator among state and local crime lab technicians, who analyze gun shot residue and match bullets and casings; evidence examiners, who trace the ownership of firearms; patrol officers, who most often make firearms arrests; and prosecutors.

Occasionally, the investigator will interrogate and investigate violent criminals.

A goal will be to make sure violent offenders receive the maximum penalties, which requires a thorough background investigation.

For instance, if a person has been convicted of a violent crime or felony drug offense, a second conviction for a crime involving a handgun carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison without parole, and a judge cannot suspend a portion of the sentence.

Also, convicted felons are not permitted to carry a handgun in Maryland. If a felon is caught with one, that person would face a stiffer sentence than a person with no criminal history.

In the application for the grant, police cited two cases in which stiffer charges and penalties should have been assessed but were not because the necessary criminal background checks were either not done, or done poorly.

"This grant is going to make this process a lot more efficient," said Assistant State's Attorney Stacy Mayer, who has been handling gun cases since August 2006. "We're also going to work closely together to get a handle on where these guns are coming from, which is not easy to do, when you don't have a firearms investigator."

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