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Oakland police seize 796 firearms in 2016

March 10, 2017
East Bay Times: Oakland

OAKLAND — Police, working with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, took 796 firearms off the streets last year, down from 2015’s total of 921, but still well beyond the annual haul in previous years.

In 2012 to 2014, police recovered between 400 and 500 guns annually, according to documents submitted to the City Council in requests to fund a gun-tracing program.

The council green-lighted a two-year allocation of $1 million to enhance the city’s gun-tracing program, beginning in 2015. In a report to be presented to the council’s Public Works Committee next week, Assistant Chief of Police David Downing spells out the results of that work and department plans for the $284,000 that remains from that allocation.

These include adding cameras to the “ShotSpotter” network of devices that pick up the sound of gunfire and relay the information to patrol cars and police dispatch. Other items Downing described are a computer for the department’s helicopter to link it to the ShotSpotter system — which will cost $144,000 — and other hardware needs.

In 2015, 42 of the weapons were linked to homicides, and in 2016, 36. The most common crime where a firearm was recovered involved a felon illegally possessing a weapon: 210 in 2015 and 227 in 2016, the report found. There were also 345 instances of carrying a concealed weapon over the two-year period.

Also during that time frame, there were 17 suicides, 53 robberies, 68 aggravated assaults and 56 “simple assaults,” 19 cases of domestic violence and 20 of domestic disturbances, 11 stolen vehicles and eight carjackings, 113 drug-related crimes and one case of resisting arrest.

Of the weapons used in those crimes, most were purchased in California. Of the 1,151 weapons authorities were able to trace to a point of sale, 617 were bought in California, 126 in Nevada, 111 in Arizona and 46 in Texas, again combining numbers for 2015 and 2016.

“It continues to be important to see that most guns used in crimes in Oakland originated from California, not from other states,” Bruce Stoffmacher, Oakland police research and planning legislation manager, wrote in an email interview.

“This is a signal that OPD needs to work with local law enforcement agencies in different parts of the state,” he wrote.

“Part of the value of this information is in promoting transparency for the public, especially as local leaders look for ways to decrease crime, and the nation continues to debate the proper availability of guns to the public,” Stoffmacher continued.

Learning a weapon’s background helps to develop leads and identify suspected traffickers and potentially determine in-state, interstate and international patterns in the sources and kinds of crime guns, former police Chief Sean Whent wrote in a 2014 report to the City Council, quoting a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives document on the benefits of tracing the source of weapons.

Most of the seized weapons traced were pistols: 580 in 2016, 640 in 2015. Revolvers were the next largest category, at 92 in 2016 and 137 in 2015.

In addition, the program investigated 77 rifles last year, down from 86 the year before, and a total of 85 shotguns in 2015 and 2016 combined.

Most of the weapons used 9 mm ammunition — more than 200 each year — with .40 caliber and .45 caliber next. But there were more than 40 12-gauge shotguns, dozens of .357-caliber revolvers and pistols traced, too.

The report found that the shorter the length of time between the purchase of a weapon and its use in a crime, the stronger the indication that the weapon was bought by a “straw purchaser” for someone legally barred from owning a weapon, Stoffmacher said in an interview.

“If OPD starts to see shorter time to crime data, specifically for certain types of firearms, then OPD would know that there might be some illegal gun sale activity impacting crime in Oakland,” Stoffmacher wrote in a follow-up email. That would signal a need to investigate gun sale activity, he said.

“It’s very important to OPD to be able to make local connections between guns and gun-related crimes, and to people who are also connected to these firearms. This type of tracing helps our criminal investigations division to find evidence that can lead to convictions and prosecutions for people who are directly involved in local gun crimes,” he wrote.

The age of people from whom weapons were taken is most commonly 18 to 21 in Oakland, although ages 25 to 30 and 31 to 40 each were almost as frequent, with 125 to 150 suspects in all three age ranges annually.

Nationally, the average age for someone criminally involved with a gun was 36 in 2015 and 35 in 2016. In Oakland, that was 31 and 30 for those years.

The report will be presented to the city’s Public Safety Committee at its 6 p.m. meeting Tuesday at City Hall.