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Harrisburg police tout progress in removing illegal weapons from city streets

Flanked by seized firearms, Harrisburg police Commissioner Thomas Carter today explained his bureau’s progress in taking illegal weapons off the streets.

Harrisburg police have seized hundreds of firearms over the past few years, following a department-wide push to take illegal guns off of city streets, officials announced today.

At a press conference, police lined three long tables with handguns, rifles and shotguns, which they said was a small sample of the 646 illegal weapons confiscated from 2016-18.

Capt. Gabriel Olivera said that, in 2016, city police Commissioner Thomas Carter instructed officers to focus on the epidemic of illegal weapons in the city.

“All these guns were seized mostly without officers engaging these individuals with gunfire,” Olivera said. “Our officers have shown great restraint.”

According to Olivera, 196 guns were seized in 2016, 252 in 2017, and 198 in 2018. The far majority of these weapons have been handguns.

Carter said that, even before 2016, his officers routinely seized illegal firearms. But he wanted them to be more mindful of illegally owned guns, most of which have been stolen, as they patrolled and made arrests.

“I work with these amazing men and women on a day-in and day-out basis, and I know their capabilities,” he said, referring to his officers. “It’s something the entire agency bought into.”

Olivera mentioned that, for 2018, Harrisburg had about a 10-percent drop in “Part 1” offenses, which include the most serious crimes like murder, robbery and aggravated assault, compared to 2017. He also cited a 5- to 6-percent reduction in “Part 2” crimes, such as simple assault, disorderly conduct and most drug possession offenses, which are generally considered to be less serious. Detailed crime data for Harrisburg should be publicly available next month, he said.

“I can’t tell you that the number of guns have reduced the homicide rate,” Carter said. “But I can tell you that it has reduced violent crime.”

Olivera said that, after police seize a stolen gun, officers try to determine the rightful owner, so it can be returned. If no owner is identified, the gun eventually is destroyed, he said.

While Carter praised the work of his department, he admitted that the three-year seizure tally represented only a fraction of the illegal weapons in the city.

“This doesn’t even shake the basket of what’s out there,” he said. “We’re just going to do everything we need to do to be able to make sure elderly people and young people can walk down the street without fear of being mugged or robbed or something like that.”

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