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D.C. Aggressively Seize Guns, Many Charges Don't Stick

Officials have been under immense pressure to curb gun crimes - even before the recent mass shootings in Uvalde, Tx., and Buffalo, NY. As gun crimes have soared, police and prosecutors have focused on reducing the number of illegal firearms on the streets, the Washington Post reports. In Washington D.C., aggressive tactics to seize guns have exacerbated community tensions and collided with the realities of successful prosecutions. To substantiate a case in court, police must show they had legitimate reason to conduct a search and tie a gun to a specific person, which can be a difficult task. Police seized more than 2,400 illegal firearms in 2021, a slight increase from the previous year. The pace is accelerating this year, with 54 percent more illegal firearms confiscated than at this time in 2021. At the same time, homicides are rising for the fifth year in a row. About half the people charged with murder typically have a prior gun arrest, though not necessarily a conviction.

The aggressive tactics police use to seize guns have long drawn scrutiny. The city's Police Reform Commission argued in a 2021 report that officers on special squads such as the Gun Recovery Unit "use aggressive stop and search tactics" and recommended sweeping changes, such as barring officers from citing "high crime areas" as a partial justification for stopping people. Police have signaled openness to change. In March 2021. the Gun Recovery Unit commander circulated a memo urging others to rethink some of the aggressive tactics. To the frustration of police, the path from arrest to prosecution to prison is a difficult one. Police and prosecutors say they confer daily over gun arrests, reviewing body-camera video to help build cases or learn of unforeseen pitfalls. Prosecutors try to talk with the arresting officer before deciding to drop a case. Defense lawyers say police sometimes trample constitutional rights to justify stopping someone to prove a hunch that they are armed. Requiring evidence that a person possess a firearm should not be considered a hurdle, they say, but the starting point for an arrest.


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