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"There is a community psychosis," said Ed Flynn, commissioner of the Springfield, Mass., Police Department. "Violence is the first reaction, and guns are available."
Going after guns
Minneapolis has pulled 600 guns off the street this year, while Chicago recovered 10,000 last year and offers $100 for anyone who turns one in. Mark Chait, deputy assistant director in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said the agency traced more than 300,000 guns recovered by police last year.
Gang violence accounts for 75 percent of the shootings in Boston in 2007. Karyn McCluskey, deputy head of the Strathclyde Police Department in Glasgow, Scotland, was a bit stunned by the level of gun activity in the United States. Nearly all of the 167 homicides in Scotland last year involved knives, she said.
Many officials, including Dolan, were candid in their remarks, contending that soft sentences for gun crimes create a cycle of repeat offenders. More than 50 people charged with murder in Baltimore this year had prior gun convictions, so "we're not talking about amateurs here," said Frederick Bealefeld, the city's acting police commissioner.
The Tennessee Legislature recently passed the "Crooks with Guns" bill that requires mandatory additional sentences of between three and 10 years for crimes committed with guns. In Canada, handguns are essentially banned unless you're in law enforcement, said Toronto's Police Chief William Blair.
The number of criminals willing to fire guns at officers and deputies has reached record levels in the United States. This year, 58 officers have been shot to death, surpassing the 52 slain in 2006.
"People will do anything to evade arrest," said Kansas City, Mo., Police Chief Jim Corwin, who recently had an officer paralyzed by gunfire. "In 30 years, I've never seen anything like it."
Sharing success stories
Many of those shooters are juveniles, which is why police officials from Milwaukee, San Francisco and elsewhere wanted to hear how Minneapolis is reducing youth crime.
In addition to sharing their successes, Dolan and Rybak liked several ideas they heard at the conference. One in particular is used in New Haven, Conn., where officials issue identification cards to any undocumented illegal immigrants to help police. It would also encourage immigrants to open a bank account instead of carrying cash after cashing a payroll check.
Dolan, among others, was also interested in a program that Boston set up in June that allows anonymous text messaging of crime tips. Boston police have received 399 tips, several of which helped solve two homicides.
Although there was no shortage of success stories, old problems remain and new challenges continue to appear on the horizon.
Half of the officials, for instance, agreed they are trying to slow down the number of robbers seeking iPods, cell phones and other electronic gadgets instead of cash.
"We can talk about all the strategies all we want," said Los Angeles Assistant Police Chief Earl Paysinger. "But crime usually happens when the community fails to police itself."
David Chanen 612-673-4465