City should reinstate anonymous-tip gun bounty

HAVING YOUR SAY

May 28, 2008|By Jim Giza

If Mayor Sheila Dixon's goal is to get guns off the streets of Baltimore, she should look to the past and reintroduce a gun bounty program similar to the one initiated by Police Commissioner Donald D. Pomerleau in 1974.

During its brief existence, the program, called Operation PASS (People Against Senseless Shootings), had two components: a $50 bounty for every weapon voluntarily turned in to the Police Department, and a $100 bounty for an anonymous tip that resulted in a handgun being confiscated and the person arrested. This anonymous-tip bounty was unfortunately overshadowed by the heavily criticized $50 bounty because inoperable "junk guns" and so-called Saturday-night specials were being turned in by the proverbial carload, at a profit.

This part of the program accounted for virtually all of the more than 13,000 weapons collected by the department. However, during the life of the program, the anonymous-tip bounty did result in the confiscation of an average of one dangerous gun a day. These are the types of guns the mayor refers to when she talks about getting "illegal guns" off the city's streets.

Operation PASS tipsters called a special number and received a numerical identifier. If the tip resulted in a weapon being confiscated, an officer responded to a rendezvous point with the cash.

I was assigned to the Police Department's Planning and Research Division during Operation PASS, and a fellow officer kept a tally of the tip guns that were confiscated. It was a simple, clean operation, and the street cops loved it. Each district had its own bankroll, so there was no bureaucracy for the tipster to wade through and fight to get the reward money.

Unfortunately, the program lasted only four months - the victim of a lack of funding and a backlash against the less-successful $50 gun bounty. If this program had been given more time, I belive it would have shown measurable results.

Given the problems in the economy, if the money is right, the tips should roll in. Sometimes doing your civic duty needs to be jump-started, and the end does justify the means - in this case, tip money for possibly saving a life.

Philadelphia; Orlando, Fla.; and Miami-Dade County, Fla., currently kick out $1,000 for a gun tip. The Miami-Dade County slogan is "One Gun, One Arrest, One Grand."

What is a life worth in Baltimore? At least $500, don't you think? For 500 bucks, some folks would turn in their own mothers.

But no one will know unless City Hall makes gun tips profitable for everyone by investing some startup cash. If the city can't find the money, the local business community should step up with funding to get the program started. After all, reducing crime in Baltimore is good for business, isn't it?

We could generate public interest in the program by holding a contest for a slogan. Here is my idea: "Report a Gun - Make a Few Bucks." What's yours?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jim Giza, a Baltimore resident, is a retired Baltimore police sergeant

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