Facing an ongoing struggle to find witnesses willing to cooperate in gun cases, both local and federal authorities in St. Paul are hoping residents start thinking about reaching for their smartphones to provide information that could help investigators.
St. Paul's police department and the local division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) on Monday unveiled a multipronged effort to promote confidential reporting via a hot line, smartphone app, e-mail and web services.
Dubbed "Report It," the new campaign includes a phone line (888-ATF-GUNS or 651-266-5755); an app available on iTunes and Google Play; e-mail at ATFtips@atf.gov or SPPD-GunGangInformation@st.paul.gov; and through the website www.ReportIt.com.
"We are using all available tools to address gun violence, but we need the public's help," said Jeff Magee, ATF St. Paul Field Division special agent in charge, in a statement Monday. "Every bit of information that people can share with us helps piece together criminal investigations or prevent violent crimes from occurring in the future."
St. Paul police have documented 960 reports of "firearm discharges" in the city so far this year, including 117 shootings and 11 gun deaths. Authorities have recovered about 400 guns so far this year.
Even so, St. Paul police are calling the latest figures "encouraging." Reports of gunshots through April had been up 75 percent from the same period in 2016; now, they're up only 52 percent.
Authorities say they too often document "uncooperative victims and witnesses" who are unwilling to talk to officers after a shooting.
"Silence can be deadly," St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell said in a statement announcing the program. "A person who shoots once probably won't think twice about doing it again. That's why we need people to talk to us, tell us who has guns illegally, who's shooting them and where we can find them."