Hughes/Horseshoe Lake News

Gun buyback program gaining traction in West Memphis

City officials looking at all sides of anti- violence initiative

news@theeveningtimes.com

While West Memphis City Council continued working to produce a gun buyback provision, Police Chief Donald Oakes said he was all for it – but not for the same reasons he has heard voiced from some ward representatives.

In the end City Council forged a short cut and authorized the police department to administer a gun buyback initiative.

A pair of councilors met with the chief in a Tuesday work session to define the scope of a buyback program. Councilors Ramona Taylor and Marco McClendon heard the details of the current gun turn in policy and worked through details to dovetail the buyback onto the existing policy.

“People need to know there is a way to turn in unwanted guns right now,” said Oakes after the meeting. “All they have to do is call us and we will come and get it or they may bring it to the police department.” The next day all five councilors on the police commission met along with McClendon and Assistant Police Chief Eddie West to further shape the plan.

West described how turning in a gun currently worked.

“If John Doe citizen had some kind of weapon he didn’t need or want any more, he could bring it down here and we’d be more than happy to take it,” said West. “Of course, we would put through the evidence process and then to destroy. We’ve been doing it for years.”

The gun is checked to see if has been stolen or used in a crime by cross checking state and federal Crime Information Centers (ACIC and NCIC).

“That’s where ACIC and NCIC come in,” said West.

“If it is stolen we’d have to call the person who reported it and follow through.”

A buyback event would simply add a layer of anonymity for those turning in firearms.

“We are still going to run it through the check, but we won’t know who brought it in,” said West.

Later in the day Chief Oakes concurred that checking gun backgrounds would remain a link in the process under a buyback policy.

“If a gun is turned in and it was stolen, we’ll find that out and be able to return it to the rightful owner,” said Oakes. “People rightfully expect return of their property when the police find it.”

The proposal to fund the gun buyback events would amount to $5,000 and reimburse police with a budget amendment for any buybacks this year.

Councilman Marco Mc-Clendon told the police commissioners, “If this prevents one gun crime, one person being shot or killed in our city it is worth the $5000.”

While some city councilors shared McClendon’s hopes, Chief Oakes said the program would be about creating a safer community. Oakes assessed the results of similar programs from other cities that also participate in the Violence Reduction Network. “It’s simply about public safety for me, it won’t take one gun from the hand of a violent criminal,” said Oakes. “People inherit a gun and put it away in the sock drawer and forget about it and they don’t know it could be turned in.

If you don’t think about taking care of the gun and don’t put up the gun everyday like I do, those are the guns that a child can find and accidentally discharge.”

What would the local gun buy program look like? The chief said he was looking at the details from a sister city in the Violence Reduction Network that had successful buy back program, Camden, New Jersey.

“Like Memphis and West Memphis being just across state lines, Camden is just outside Philadelphia,” said Oakes. “They are a little bigger than we are but they have a buyback program that brings in a lot of guns.

So we aren’t going to reinvent the wheel. We’ll use something proven to work.”

The chief indicated the Camden buyback events are held at churches. A person not associated with law enforcement checks the person’s identification just to verify they live in the city. The program here would be funded by the city and for West Memphis residents only. The gun would be inspected for safety sake and cataloged.

“You have a neutral person, not associated with law enforcement, like the minister, who does not record the identification but simply checks off a sheet that says, yes, they live in the city,” said Oakes.

“They proceed to pick up a voucher and the whole thing remains anonymous.”

The amounts given for different guns would vary depending on the type. City councilors also expressed the hopes that replica guns would be included in buyback events. That payment schedule remained up in the air to be determined by the police department.

Oakes promised a specified fee schedule would be developed.

“But, it would be nice to hand a $50 grocery card to a grandmother struggling to pay bills that turned in a handgun,” said Oakes.

Finally Oakes said this wasn’t about taking guns

from gun owners and permit carriers.

“People have the right to protect themselves and have guns,” said Oakes.

“We recognize that. This is not about them, this is for those with unwanted guns that someone wants disposed off and destroyed.”

City council had been scrabbling to legislate details of the plan for six weeks and took action in the in the August 3 meeting.

Ultimately, the council voted unanimously to authorize the WMPD to craft its own buyback policy and also agreed to amend the budget to reimburse the department for any gun purchases this year up to

$5,000.

By John Rech

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