BALTIMORE – In a case of short-sighted thinking on display, the Baltimore City Council is resolved to support a proposal to accept weapons off the street in lieu of bail from an inmate booked for a criminal offense. The disagreeable part of the protocol is this: They are asking law enforcement to in essence “look the other way” regarding evidence that might be obtained from the firearm.
If I understand the proposal correctly, a defendant could be booked on a criminal offense, knowingly submit a firearm used in a homicide, and suddenly he has limited immunity because evidence obtained from the weapon could not be used against him in court.
Trevor Brooks, a convicted murderer who attended a Silicon Valley entrepreneurship program after getting out of prison forged the idea, reported The Baltimore Sun.
He wants to allow people use an app to turn in guns and make bail. Given the choice between giving up a gun or sitting in Central Booking, “they’re going to turn the guns in as fast as they can,” Brooks said.
Of course they will if they are essentially given a level of immunity, but there will be unintended consequences.
To turn in a gun, an eligible nonviolent jail inmate’s family would use an app developed by Brooks to take a picture of the gun and send it to GunBail, which would then mail a box and gun lock.
Once the gun is surrendered to authorities, the courts would agree to release the inmate on their own recognizance and law enforcement would agree not to investigate whether the gun had been used in any other crimes, according to The Baltimore Sun.
That last step would ensure detainees suffered no repercussions for taking part in the program. But it could deny police some investigative leads.
On Monday, the City Council took up a resolution that would lend its support to the idea. The council will consider the measure as the city scrambles to contain a surge in gun violence that has killed 118 people this year and wounded 200 more, and has city officials leaning on the federal government for help, according to the Sun.
Councilman Brandon Scott, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, introduced the measure. He said Brooks’ company, GunBail, could offer a new option.
“We have to be thinking as creatively as possible to get guns off the streets,” Scott said. “I’m just hopeful we’ll be able to be on the cutting edge of something.”
Brooks said the strength of his idea is that it would target people involved in the criminal justice system.
“These are what I deem crime guns,” Brooks said, “the guns that will be used in the next random act of violence.”
But for the program to get off the ground, it likely would need the full support of the Baltimore Police Department, the state’s attorney’s office and the judiciary. Police spokesman T.J. Smith confirmed that officials had met with Brooks and said his idea would have to be carefully considered.
“We’re always looking for creative ideas to get guns off of the street,” Smith said. “Something this serious deserves a lot of scrutiny.”
After hearing the outlines of the proposal during a council working lunch Monday, Councilman John Bullock said, “It might be a logistical challenge.”
“I have a lot of questions,” he said.
Brooks’ idea has merit up until the demand to ignore the firearm as evidence. He is viewing things from a limited perspective, but you will throw justice out the window the way the program is currently proposed.
For instance, Chicago Police Department recently recovered a 9-millimeter Glock. It was run through the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN). As a result they discovered it was used in two recent homicides and four other shootings across the city. Since detectives had several people potentially tied to the firearm, all of these cases had new leads.
If the same Glock was submitted as bail under the proposed program in Baltimore, there would be many victims that may not see justice and murder suspect(s) that might avoid prosecution.
Aside from DNA evidence, NIBIN, and other similar ballistics database programs are some of the best tools detectives have when solving cases that have gone cold.
Moreover, does the government really have the right to offer limited immunity in this way—by not using evidence gained from the firearm—when pursuing a homicide investigation? Does that offer justice to a murder victim? What if there are no other forms of evidence against an accused?
Also, the gun boxes used to mail firearms would become readily identifiable by those looking for guns. They would become easy targets for theft or “lost in transit.” Career criminals would figure out a way to defeat the gunlocks, assuming the guns are properly locked when shipped in the first place.
Finally, the way this is constructed, it appears a defendant could turn himself in on a low-level warrant, and post bail with a firearm that he used in an unsolved homicide. Suddenly he is guaranteed evidence from the weapon would never be used against him. That appears to be a fantastic way to get rid of a murder weapon. Am I wrong?
Someone please tell me I have misunderstood this proposal. I cannot believe rational people are actually considering the idea of ignoring evidence in a homicide investigation when a person surrenders a firearm in lieu of bail.
John “Jay” Wiley, our radio show host, and retired Baltimore police sergeant, recorded a special segment on this topic. You can listen here.
– Jim McNeff, editor-in-chief, Law Enforcement Today