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Program offers cash for tips on illegal guns

Friday, August 24, 2001

By M. Ferguson Tinsley, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

City, school and federal authorities yesterday announced a gun buyback program with a new twist.

City and Pittsburgh school police, along with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, unveiled a program that will pay cash for anonymous tips leading to confiscation of illegal guns.

Assistant Police Chief William Mullen said the new "Gun Stoppers" program will pay tipsters $25 to $100 for information on individuals carrying illegal guns. Those are guns without legal permits and guns that have been stolen, are illegally concealed or are carried by convicted felons.

Mullen said police hope the new program will be effective because "the vast majority of the homicides this year involved illegal weapons."

Here's how "Gun Stoppers" works: Anyone who knows where an illegal gun is kept or of someone carrying an illegal gun may call 911 to leave the information. Callers' names will not be taken. The caller will get a special identification number.

If the tip results in a gun confiscation, the tipster gets $25. If it results in an arrest, the caller gets $100. To get the money, the caller, using the police-supplied ID number, must call police back to see if the tip helped police grab a gun or a criminal. If so, the caller will be paid at an undisclosed location.

Guns collected through the program will be returned to their legal owners or destroyed, Mullen said.

He said since the program started in Charleston, S.C., in 1994, police have received 114 tips, arrested 72 and seized 56 handguns, a sawed-off shotgun, three pellet guns, a stun gun, four long-blade knives and a Chinese martial arts throwing star.

Seed money for Pittsburgh's program came through a $2,500 grant from the Sloan Foundation of New York, said Jacqueline Cohen, a Carnegie Mellon University professor of crime and criminal justice.

Cohen helped develop the "Gun Stopper" program with local law enforcement. She said it developed parallel with a 1998 study looking at the mitigating effect of street patrols on gun violence.

During the study, analysts found that gun injuries declined dramatically on the North Side and in the East End when street detectives intervened in trouble spots, made traffic stops and talked to residents.

Cohen said "Gun Stoppers" accomplishes more than traditional buyback programs because it specifically targets guns used in crimes rather than getting souvenirs, hunting weapons and collectors' castoffs out of dusty closets.

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