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I-Team: Gun Bounty Cashes In By Getting Guns Off Street

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MIAMI (CBS4) – A CBS4 I-Team investigation into your safety takes you behind the scenes of a unique crime fighting program that sounds familiar but is not.

It’s a program that has been so successful in South Florida that now law enforcement from around the country are coming here to learn how to do it.

I-Team investigator Stephen Stock found out how the Gun Bounty program works.

Illegally owned and possessed guns are used to commit crimes across  South Florida. It’s a problem police have been fighting for years.

In 2009, police recovered and the US Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms traced 239,883 guns tied to crime. Of those, the ATF traced 18,714 illegal guns to Florida, 2,852 of them to South Florida.

“We’ve seen a number of AK 47’s,” said local Crime Stoppers Executive Director Richard Masten. “We get Glocks, Sig Sauers, Smith and Wesson’s, mp-5’s, all kinds of weapons.”

Crime Stoppers of Miami-Dade County oversees the implementation and reward pay-outs of the Gun Bounty program which is actually run by Miami-Dade County’s Police Department.

All of the guns described by Masten were seized due to Gun Bounty and had illegally been on the street.

All of those guns were seized after fellow residents on the street anonymously dropped a dime and called a toll-free Gun Bounty hotline, (305) 471-8477, to report the illegal weapon or weapons.

“The goal is to identify those individuals who have an illegal weapon in their possession and to prevent them from being involved in a gun crime,” said Masten.

Take the case of a police-issued Beretta .40 caliber pistol.

The Beretta was stolen from a Miami-Dade police patrol car sitting at Sunset High School.

A tip to the Gun Bounty hotline ended with cops busting the 17 year-old student who had hidden the stolen weapon in his bedroom in Kendall Lakes.

Police also found drugs and other illegal items in the bedroom as well.

“The program is simple it’s one arrest, one gun, one grand,” said Sgt. Gloria Packingham, of the Miami-Dade Police Department and director of the Gun Bounty Program.

Sgt. Packingham directs the Gun Bounty program and has seen it grow exponentially over the years.

“Once the person is arrested and we have the gun the citizen gets a thousand dollars,” said Sgt. Packingham. “A thousand dollars no questions asked.”

Gun Bounty officials say the program’s success is also a direct result of what Gun Bounty is not.

To be clear, this program is not a gun buy-back program.

Gun buy-back programs have traditionally not been successful in getting meaningful illegal guns off the street, say nationwide officials.

“In a typical gun buy-back (program) people bring in old weapons and you get a combination of rusty revolvers and guns that don’t really pose a threat to the community,” said Masten.

Instead, this Gun Bounty program, originated, operated and marketed by Miami-Dade’s Police Department has been so successful at getting dangerous weapons off the streets, the program is now getting attention from law enforcement agencies from around the country who want to copy it.

“Now the gun bounty program is tied to a suspect most of the time already involved in criminal activity in possession of an illegal weapon a stolen weapon,” said Masten.

Since Gun Bounty began in 2007 the program’s success has exceeded almost all expectations.

As of February 15, 2011, the program has resulted in 537 illegal guns seized and confiscated, 331 arrests and $2,437,187 worth of drugs and stolen property seized or recovered.

“In some cases we’ve made multiple arrests for multiple weapons and sometimes multiple weapons for one individual,” said Masten.

In another case, a recent Gun Bounty tip resulted in not just a cache of illegal guns taken off the street, but a myriad of drugs and other items seized and recovered.

The operation’s recovery at a home located at 22635 SW 125 Avenue, on December 9, 2010, looked like small military operation with AK-47 and AR-15 assault rifles and Sig Sauer pistols seized.

At the home, police also found garbage bags full of marijuana, heavy-duty military style bullet proof vests, masks and piles of cash.

“We’re gearing this towards crime prevention,” said Sgt. Packingham. “We’re trying to save lives. We want the criminal as well as the guns off the street.”

The program is working so well that its director believes fellow inmates in jail and prison are dropping dimes anonymously. When they do, even while in jail or prison, they get a thousand bucks while getting illegal guns off the street out of the hands of criminals.

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