Profile No. 9

Baltimore County Police Gun Squad -- Baltimore, MD

Program Type or Federal Program Source:
Program to monitor Federal firearms licensees.

Program Goal:
To reduce the number of illegal guns in homes and on the streets.

Specific Groups Targeted by the Strategy:
Illegal FFL's.

Geographical Area Targeted by the Strategy:
Baltimore County, MD.

Evaluated by:
Internal data collection.

Contact Information:
Sergeant Mark Cowley
Baltimore County Police Department
700 East Joppa Road
Towson, MD 21286
Phone: 410­887­6287

Years of Operation:

The chief of the Baltimore County Police Department established the department's Gun Squad as a pilot project in 1995 to respond to an increase in the number of crimes involving firearms. Members of the Gun Squad completed 6 months of training with ATF to learn firearm investigation techniques.

The Gun Squad began by focusing on residential FFL's because home burglaries were a major source of illegal guns. The 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill included a provision that if a person holding an FFL was in violation of any local laws, the Federal license would not be renewed. Gun Squad officers, therefore, reviewed local laws and discovered a county ordinance prohibiting the operation of a business from the home. The Gun Squad asked county zoning officials to prepare a list of all FFL's operating in areas that were not zoned for business use; letters were sent to these individuals informing them that they were in violation of a county law and that their FFL's would not be renewed. Because of the group's work, the number of FFL's has been reduced from 404 in 1995 to about 75 dealers and 50 collectors in 1998.

The Gun Squad also has developed rapid response procedures to investigate suspected straw purchasers, many of whom have been identified from information given to police by gun dealers. The Gun Squad has spent years building a strong rapport with dealers. When a tip is received, the officers are able to conduct a background check and execute a search warrant within hours, making it more likely that the suspect will still have the weapons in his or her possession at the time of arrest.

Finally, when uniformed officers respond to a domestic violence call, they contact the Gun Squad if one of the parties has been threatened with a gun (even if the weapon is not visible at the time). The Gun Squad will run a profile on the suspect to determine whether there are legal reasons why the person may not own a gun (a prior felony conviction, for example) and, if there are, will come to the premises and seize the gun.

In 1996, the Gun Squad seized more than 300 weapons -- 25 percent of all weapons seized by county law enforcement; 260 weapons were seized in 1997.

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