Police chief, mayor say buyback program can save lives, but acknowledge it’s ‘not that effective’

Published 8:40 pm Friday, June 17, 2022

Though Police Chief Al Chandler, Mayor Mike Duman and others said a voluntary gun buyback program would do little to curb the gun violence happening in the city, council unanimously voted in favor of it.

Chandler, in a briefing to council Wednesday, June 15, cited the six homicides in the city this year and the increase in gun violence in his introduction to the program, but also acknowledged its limited effectiveness.

Still, he said the program would be worth it if it takes one gun off the streets that could have been used in a crime. And, he said some of the guns used in crimes this year have been stolen.

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“This is a step toward trying to keep guns out of the wrong hands,” Chandler said.

CE Tactical gun shop owner Gary Crossfield, disagreed.

“The program sounds nice, (but) researchers show buyback programs do not work,” Crossfield said. “They do not stop gun crimes. They do not stop gun violence. It is a good, happy show that we did something.”

This year, there have been 55 gun-related crimes in the city through June 8, Chandler said. In addition to the six homicides, there have been 32 aggravated assaults, 12 instances of shooting into an occupied dwelling and five shootings at occupied vehicles.

In that timeframe, Suffolk Police confiscated 146 guns, 116 of which were connected to criminal activity.

State law allows localities to take part in gun buyback programs where people can be given something of value in exchange for surrendering their gun to the locality.

The adopted ordinance allows the Suffolk Police Department to receive and dispose of guns received through the program unless they learn they are stolen. In that case, police will attempt to return the gun to its rightful owner.

The original draft ordinance had said the department would be allowed “to receive and destroy,” but legally, anyone bringing in their gun as part of a buyback program can request in writing that their gun can be sold at auction or sealed bid, according to state law.

He said the weapons would not be processed for fingerprints or DNA, and would not be used for criminal prosecution. No one will be asked to identify themselves.

“The only investigatory step we would take is to ensure the weapons are not reported stolen,” Chandler said.

Prior to any buyback event, Chandler said the department would provide containers to store the weapons and a cleaning barrel to make sure all weapons are unloaded properly. Then, police would return after the event to take possession of the weapons presented in exchange for a gift card.

He said there also would be opportunities for gun lock giveaways and gun safety training opportunities, but did not specify who would be organizing those efforts.

City Manager Al Moor said the ordinance would not be for just one event, and that it would be up to the entity hosting the event to determine how much money would be on a gift card.

Councilman Roger Fawcett, participating in the meeting remotely due to illness, asked who would be running the buyback events, whether the city would be spending money on the program and how it would affect an already understaffed police department.

Duman said the ordinance is not event-specific, and no buyback event has yet been scheduled. He said members of the Hampton Roads Black Caucus, which has held gun buyback events in other Hampton Roads cities, contacted him about setting up an event in Suffolk. He said the city would not pay for gift cards, which would come from the organization hosting the event. If it hosts an event, the Hampton Roads Black Caucus would offer free trigger locks and free gun safety courses.

Crossfield said a gun buyback program will not stop gun crime, and will only further tax an already understaffed police department that would have to expend more manpower to take the required steps needed to properly execute the program.

“Getting grandma’s gun that’s been in the closet for 10 years isn’t going to stop the guns and the crime,” Crossfield said. “Let’s go do crime prevention. Let’s stop gun crimes. Let’s do police actions.”

Duman said it is not “anti-gun,” and the reality is that buyback programs “are not that effective.” However, like Chandler, he said it “is worth every part of it” if getting one gun off the street prevents just one death.

Durman said a buyback program would be just one “part of that gun safety initiative.”

And though no final decisions have been made on police staffing for an event, the city wouldn’t necessarily need a police officer there. The gun has to go to an authorized representative, which could be an officer, but could also be a deputy sheriff, someone from the Western Tidewater Regional Jail, or anyone the city has the confidence to be there.

“There has to be some chain of custody for those weapons,” Duman said.

Chandler said he did not expect any law violators to be returning guns. The objective, he said, is to prevent the guns out there from getting into the wrong hands.

“This program is not expected to aid in solving crimes,” Chandler said. “However, this program, maybe, could avoid a future crime. The point behind this is, if it takes just one firearm, one firearm, out of the hands of a potential violator, I believe it’s worth it.”