The three plainclothes police officers in Washington, D.C., are trying to get guns off the streets via routine traffic stops. After finding no weapons for three hours on one night, the officers got a gun when they stopped a driver who was not wearing his seat belt. The 15-officer team has seized more than 80 firearms this year, helping push the department’s total past 1,000. If the pace continues, police will recover more firearms than in any year since 2000. They are about to get help from a strike force led by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Some question the department’s effectiveness at removing guns from the streets. The numbers — D.C. police recovered 1,982 guns last year — are down from earlier years. In 1996, police took in 2,950 guns. In the early 1990s, they seized 3,500 to 4,000 firearms a year. Officials with the Fraternal Order of Police said the seizures dropped because Chief Charles Ramsey eliminated specialized gun squads after he took over the top job in 1998. “The chief hasn’t taken this seriously,” said Sgt. G.G. Neill, a union official and a former gun squad member. Ramsey said he wanted all of his officers, not just specialized units, to work at seizing guns. Citywide, police have seized five assault rifles, 568 pistols, 224 revolvers, and other firearms this year. On Feb. 3, police stopped a 14-year-old driving a car and turned up a submachine gun and semiautomatic handgun.