Taking illegal weapons off the streets of Newport News and out of the hands of criminals is a top priority for the Newport News Police Department and involves every division.
Virginia is an open-carry state, meaning that if you buy a gun, unless you have a concealed weapons permit, the gun must be visible. Most guns in the state of Virginia are legally owned. You are not required to register a gun in Virginia; however, when you buy a gun from a legal dealer, federal paperwork is completed documenting the transaction. “In Newport News, we take weapons offenses very seriously and our officers aggressively enforce all Virginia gun laws,” said Acting Chief of Police, Michael Grinstead.
“An effective gun violence reduction program, including the removal of illegal weapons is an ongoing process that involves many moving parts. The mechanisms, means and targeted populations can vary based on area demographics. At the NNPD, improvements and advancements in the process are made daily,” said Grinstead. In 2017, the NNPD seized 661 illegal guns, up from 2016 when 603 were seized. “This success is due to the efforts of the NNPD including the Violent Crimes Reduction Task Force as well as other coordinated efforts with local, state and federal agencies,” added Grinstead.
There are many reasons why a weapon is considered illegal. Guns are seized when used in the commission of a felony and many of the 2017 gun confiscations were from persons convicted of a prior felony, where federal law prohibits possessing a firearm. Or, the weapon was concealed and the carrier did not have a license to conceal. The legal age to carry a gun is 18 years old, so some were taken from juveniles.
“We are making a serious dent in this war against the use of illegal firearms often resulting in violent crime in our city, but we are committed to doing even more,” said Grinstead. It is not uncommon for patrol officers to ask about the possession of a weapon in a routine traffic stop, especially in a high-crime area or where a crime may have recently occurred. This helps not only remove illegal weapons but protects the officers and citizens.
“And, like with everything, technology is playing a significant role in weapons recovery and weapons offense investigations,” said Grinstead. The quality of surveillance video has improved tremendously and because of available grant money, the department will install the newer equipment starting in the South Precinct. In addition, cutting-edge technology has also been purchased that will help process evidence locally vs. sending to a state lab, creating a lag time. The Department has also partnered with the Newport News Fire Department in the purchase of a Drone. In law enforcement, the Drone will be used for multiple reasons in crime prevention including the apprehension of a suspect that may have been involved in a violent crime, especially those involving a weapon.
Not all weapons recovered are illegal. Some are simply found or turned in by citizens who no longer want them for whatever reason. The NNPD’s policy is to destroy all weapons. Weapons are destroyed only after meeting certain criteria, i.e., the weapon is no longer needed for evidence, is returned to their rightful owner in the case where the suspect was found innocent, or meets the length of time legally required to hold the weapon. “By destroying the weapons, we are certain that the illegal ones don’t return to the streets and consider this a best practice,” added Grinstead.
In 2017, annual shootings and homicides in Newport News declined. “It is difficult not to make a case that the strategies employed about the removal of illegal weapons were not part of this reduction in these violent crimes. We will continue to add other evidence-based strategies to reduce violent crime, in the entire city, and this will remain one of the Department’s top priorities.” said Grinstead.