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DA’s office overcommits - Marinscope Community Newspapers : News Pointer

DA’s office overcommits

Outstanding vouchers from gun buyback force county to seek out additional funding, modify second event

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Posted: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 12:08 pm

Last week’s countywide gun buyback was heralded as a success by law enforcement working at surrender locations and the Marin County District Attorney’s Office, which launched the program a month prior. Now, however, the DA’s office finds itself in the unfortunate position of needing to raise more money than was originally allocated for the program.

Five firearm surrender locations were set up throughout Marin Jan. 15, as a part of the county’s first incentivised gun exchange program. The DA’s office asked residents of the county, and neighboring counties, to turn in unwanted and unused guns for cash. And the response was overwhelming.

According to the district attorney’s office, the county collected 827 guns and more than 1,500 rounds of ammunition, most of which was from Marin residents.

“The turnout was much more than we expected,” Marin County District Attorney Edward Berberian said. “Within 90 minutes, we spent or committed to spend the entire $43,000.”

Those turning in guns were given $200 for semi-automatic handguns or long guns, and $100 for other guns. But the $43,000 in cash that was allocated for the event hardly lasted an hour into the scheduled-nine-hour event.

Once the funding was depleted, officers and police personnel working at the surrender sites began issuing vouchers, which were to be redeemed at a later date.

Berberian said the total dollar amount for outstanding vouchers is $68,000.

“My goal is that we get the full amount to redeem the outstanding vouchers,” Berberian said.

A second surrender date was originally scheduled for Jan. 21 at the San Rafael and Mill Valley police departments; however, the SRPD site was cancelled because of the lack of funds.

The parameters of Monday’s event in Mill Valley were also modified, as no money or vouchers were issued for guns. The event was strictly “surrender-only.”

When asked why the SRPD site was cancelled, Berberian said his office was not expecting many to turn out for the event after last week’s stumble.

“The volume [of people] may not be the same,” he said. “We’re trying to make a realistic assessment based on how we stand financially at this moment.”

It turns out the district attorney’s assessment was correct, as 22 people turned in 29 guns during the second day of the buyback program. Yet, organizers from the DA’s office said they were surprised by the turn out and called the event a success.

“Almost every resident has been a Mill Valley resident,” said Robert Guidi, Chief Inspector with the Marin County District Attorney’s Office.

A Mill Valley resident, who requested that she not be identified, turned in a revolver she received as a gift last year.

“I didn’t know what to do with it,” she said. “I was so happy when this came along. I freaked out when I saw the gun, and it has been freaking me out ever since.”

Mill Valley Police Chief Angel Bernal said residents can turn in firearms to the police department at anytime. He also said the buyback program is a good way to highlight all the guns in the community.

“As you can see by the number of guns in the barrel, many homes are that much safer because there are that many fewer firearms in the home,” Bernal said. “We didn’t give any money or vouchers because the program is unfortunately out of money.”

Some of the firearms turned in during Monday’s event were old hunting shotguns and rifles, but police also collected an illegal pen gun, prohibited high-capacity magazines and several semi-automatic guns, including a military-type AR-15 rifle.

“The AR-15 is definitely something we do not want on our streets and in our community,” Bernal said.

Moving forward

Over the next 30 days, Berberian said his office will attempt to seek contributions to remedy the lack of funds.

“A lot is being generated by conversations with media,” Berberian said. “I am making calls to groups and organizations, and will be reaching out to the cities who are beneficiaries of these guns being taken off the streets.”

The cash that was exchanged for weapons last week was raised by the D.A.’s office and other local agencies.

The county committed an initial $10,000 to the program, and the Marin Community Foundation contributed an additional $20,000 from two of its administered trusts.

MCF President and CEO Tom Peters also set up a process in which members of the community are able to mail individual contributions. In one instance, a donation of $26 was made to represent the 26 lives lost in the Sandy Hook shooting. The total amount generated through community contributions was around $10,000.

Both of the gun buyback events were held on a “no questions asked basis,” which means no investigative report will be opened based on what is surrendered.

“Serial numbers were taken [during the events] because the police departments must create reports documenting that the firearm was destroyed,” Berberian said, “but [the report] does not link to the individuals turning in weapons.”

Berberian said that police did not run the serial numbers as they were collected, but that they will run them at a later date.

“The weapons will be treated like a recovered gun,” he said. “They may find a hit, at which point police would locate who is identified as the weapon’s owner.”

Berberian said that a weapon that is determined to be stolen will be returned to the rightful owner, assuming it is not illegal.

“My perspective is that the real goal is to get rid of these firearms,” he said. “We set up the program knowing that [stolen weapons being turned in] was a possibility. It was purely an operational decision.”

In two weeks, Berberian and his office will visit each of the collection agencies for inventory purposes. From there, the guns will be processed and taken to a destruction facility, which melts and shreds the firearms.

In terms of funding, Berberian said that his office has already received another $15,000 donation from the MCF.

“I’m not convinced that we won’t be able to meet the voucher obligations we put out there,” he said. “I can’t guarantee it, but I am getting a good response.”

The Marin County Deputy Sheriff’s Association announced it will donate $1,000, as well.

“Removing those 827 firearms from general circulation means there are now 827 fewer opportunities for someone to steal those guns or use them to commit a violent crime,” DSA President Sean McKrell said in a release Tuesday. “We see this as a tremendous opportunity to come together as a community and hope our support, and the support of others, will make Marin a safer place.”

Those interested in making a tax-deductible donation to cover the vouchers issued in the buyback program can mail a check to the Marin County District Attorney’s Office, Attention Gun Buy Back Program, Room 130, 3501 Civic Center Drive, San Rafael, Calif., 94903. A tax identification number will be issued to donors.

Contact Gregory Andersen at gandersen@marinscope.com.

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