St. Petersburg to revamp gun bounty initiative

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Officials in St. Petersburg are rolling out what they are calling a Gun Bounty initiative, enhanced tactics they have been using since 2009 in an effort to get illegal guns off the streets and away from criminals.

"Guns are serious. It's violence," said Shenita Williams. She lost her niece, then 8-year-old Paris Whitehead, in 2009 after three now convicted murderers gunned down Whitehead in her St. Petersburg home while she slept. Police said it was a result of retaliation gang violence. "We need to do something as a community, as a nation. We need to do something to help these babies," Williams said.

That plea came from Williams on the same day St. Petersburg police revealed their newly revamped Gun Bounty program, a year-long initiative.

Police said utilizing nearly $50,000 in grant money to pay out overtime, police officers will begin to visit each school in the city and offer suggestions to enhance school security. Police will also deliver literature in what they consider high-crime neighborhoods. Flyers detail up to $1,500 in reward money for tips called in to Crimestoppers that lead to arrests on gun charges. Police said there are other tactics that will increase the effectiveness of their Gun Bounty Program, but those tactics can not be revealed at this time.

St. Petersburg tried a similar approach since 2009, shortly after Paris Whitehead was killed, and admit community interest has dwindled. Police said in 2009, 106 illegal gun related tips were called in. In 2011, that number dropped to 26. When asked why the new initiative will work, Police Chief Chuck Harmon said, "It's the process we have in place and us going door-to-door in communities where we've had issues and handing out this information directly." Chief Harmon said his agency will follow-up and measure successes in about one month by analyzing data on tips and gun related arrests.  

While some local NRA members have recently questioned the effectiveness of such Gun Bounty programs, Williams backs St. Petersburg's. She said, "We need to protect our babies, our homes, our family, so whatever we need to do to come together, we need to do, so I stand behind the police department."

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster said this approach is a better approach for St. Petersburg verses a gun buyback program. "One way to get rid of a gun that has been used in a crime is to sell it back to the police department. We're not interested in doing that. We want to get guns out of the hands of bad guys."

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