Could handgun ‘bounty’ get guns off Baltimore streets? It has before
By Jim Giza
Nov 21, 2019 | 6:00 AM
“Gun-shy,” a 19th century expression, described a dog that wouldn’t hunt because it feared gun-shot noise. The expression evolved to mean “markedly distrustful, afraid or cautious.” Gun-shy aptly describes Baltimore’s elected officials, police commissioner, Fraternal Order of Police president and The Sun’s editorial board, all of whom are obviously reluctant to propose any immediate, short-term measures to impact gun killings. All you hear are cliches, ad infinitum and ad nauseam, bemoaning “gun violence,” such as: it is unacceptable, or enough is enough, or work together to solve the root cause. We hear nothing about how to seize these guns before they are used to kill.
The Baltimore Police Department (BPD) is the most gun-shy, and for good reason — the horrific criminal conduct of the Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF). Ironically, it was this unit’s mission to get guns and drugs off the city’s streets, and these plain clothes officers did so, to much praise, as they morphed into a criminal cartel. Guns seized and drugs confiscated, regardless of how, made for good numbers, and the BPD leadership touted its success.
Commissioner Harrison did not create the GTTF debacle, but this fact is no excuse for not outlining in his crime reduction plan how illegally carried guns were to be confiscated. Instead, he simply asserted that violent crime would be proactively prevented by a “micro zone” (hot spot) deployment effort in crime dense areas of the city where proactive policing is defined as foot patrols, business checks, warrant serving and confronting individuals on probation and parole.
Here is what real proactive policing looks like. It is the one proposed by The Sun's Editorial Board over 27 years ago and involves the community doing its part in getting guns off the street. What is it? An anonymous tip, handgun bounty similar to the one initiated by the late Police Commissioner Donald Pomerleau in 1974.
As noted in the editorial, for the four months that the bounty program existed, a gun a day, on average, was confiscated and the carrier arrested. Unmentioned was that the tipster did not have to jump bureaucratic hoops to get the $100 for the tip, because an officer met with the tipster and laid cash in hand. It was instant gratification. Each district had a cash allotment to expedite payment for the guns seized in its jurisdiction.
Cynical as it sounds, sometimes civic duty needs a jump start, and a bounty of a $1,000 a gun can be a motivator. Now the caveat in initiating an anonymous tip gun bounty is that the same legal requirements for a stop and frisk based on the criteria expounded by the Supreme Court in Terry v. Ohio — a “Terry stop” —are in force. That is, a stop and frisk is legal only when an officer reasonably concludes, based on an articulable observation and in light of experience, that criminal activity is occurring and the suspect may be armed.
These requirements are spelled out in the 2000 case of Florida v. J.L. where, according to the Supreme Court, an officer responding to an anonymous telephone tip of an armed suspect failed to meet the “reasonable suspicion” demands of a “legal” stop and frisk because the tip was too generic and not reliable enough. Among the factors boosting reliability is the relinquishing of anonymity as Justice Kennedy, joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist, stated in a concurring opinion: “If an informant places his anonymity at risk, a court can consider this factor in weighing the reliability of the tip.”
In the case of the Pomerleau program, tipsters had to meet the officer to get the money and consequently they were no longer disembodied voices on the phone. The city’s police commissioner and state’s attorney should read Florida v. J.L. to determine how to constitutionally relaunch this program, and then they should do it.