St. Petersburg police displayed dozens of firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition as evidence of an unusual, six-week experiment. The agency assigned two sergeants and ten officers to a "gun bounty unit" and tested several strategies to separate weapons from street criminals.
"Every gun here was taken from a criminal," Chief Chuck Harmon told a Monday afternoon news conference, "We made 34 arrests, seized over 80 weapons and over 4,000 rounds of ammunition."
The special unit was active from late January through February. A highly-publicized bounty was not very productive. The department offered $1,000 cash rewards for information leading to an arrest on a weapons charge and the seizure of a firearm, $1,500 for an assault rifle. Harmon said there were only a couple of tips.
However, teaming up police and probation officers was very productive.
"They can already go into houses [of people on probation] and kind of search those houses," explained Sgt. Tim Montanari. "We can't do that without a search warrant so we partnered up with them."
Patrol officers also asked nearly everyone arrested on other charges for information about firearms. The narcotics unit also refocused for the experiment.
"Their mission kind of went away from the actual sale and possession of narcotics for that six week period and turned to...guns and drugs," Harmon said, adding some of the homes searched would not otherwise have been targeted.
Also not very successful: An opportunity to voluntary surrender weapons every Saturday in February netted 14 firearms. Checks on motels along the Fourth Street and 34th Street corridors also proved fruitless, as did home checks of juveniles on probation and investigations of "shots fired" received from the public.
Overall, though, the chief called the experiment a success.
"Some of the...lessons learned from this initiative will be going forward, absolutely," Harmon said.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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