PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Providence officials announced Monday that city police took nine different types of firearms off the street over the weekend.
The gun seizures were unusual in a lot of ways and “almost unheard of” for a city the size of Providence, according to Elorza.
“We have men and women that are committed to this work every single day, and what you have in front of you is just a small example of what they shield us from every day when they come into work,” Elorza said.
The mayor said in the past few years, the city has seen a “significant” increase in gun violence. But thankfully, he noted, there have been about 50% fewer shooting incidents this year compared to last year.
“The numbers are trending in the right direction and there’s reason for cautious optimism,” Elorza said. “But with that said, there’s still a lot of guns out there on the streets.”
Elorza said historically, police have seized anywhere from about 120 to 140 weapons per year. Last year, though, officers were able to get 210 weapons off the street.
“Not even five months in, already over 100 confiscated this year,” Elorza said, adding that he’s concerned about the damage guns can do when in the hands of the wrong people.
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Providence Police Chief Hugh Clements said his officers were able to confiscate the nine weapons off city streets within an eight-hour period, starting just before 6:30 p.m. Saturday and wrapping up around 2:30 a.m. on Sunday.
“During that same period of time on that Saturday night, police contended with 13 major incidents in the city,” Clements said.
“It’s just one of those nights, though my career, through the major and captain’s career, we’ve seen some of these nights where it just … it goes off. It just goes off the hook,” the chief added.
Clements provided examples of what led up to a few of the gun seizures. In one instance, he said shots were fired in one part of the city and a car was later stopped in the south side.
“A dangerous individual was apprehended and a .25 caliber firearm was seized,” Clements said.
Clements added that in another shots-fired incident near a nightclub, police saw a car with tinted windows speeding toward downtown that ended up crashing into parked vehicles.
“Tossed the gun, policeman gets him, alerts on the radio, ‘gun is tossed.’ The other policeman gets the other individual,” he explained. “Once the rank-and-file troops arrive, they go back to the vehicle and find a second gun.”
In a third instance, a sergeant had already put in a full day and went back out to work overtime near the nightclubs on Broad Street. Clements said the sergeant saw something “was amiss,” and stopped a car. The suspect then fled into a home and ended up pushing the sergeant over a railing, according to Clements.
“[The sergeant] gets back over the railing, chases him, apprehends him. And he had seen him toss the firearm,” Clements said. “As other officers end up on scene, they seize the firearm. That’s police work. That’s unbelievable, outstanding police work.”
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Officials said the nine weapons are just a small example of what police are able to shield the community from on a daily basis, and show how confiscating the weapons and making the arrests are not easy.
“This could have been a really bad headline in the city of Providence,” Clements noted.
Clements also told reporters it will take more than Providence police to solve the problem.
“Behind the scenes, we’ll look to deploy reaching out to our partners in the nightclub area. A lot of these incidents emanate from nightclubs in this city,” the chief added.
Separate from the gun seizures, Elorza announced Providence police are planning to deploy license plate readers by the end of next month. He said the city has been investigating the technology for the past several months.
“This is the next stop in the adoption of new technology of law enforcement here in the city of Providence,” Elorza said.
Elorza mentioned how “long ago,” police adopted the use of stun guns in order to subdue suspects without having to use deadly force. Several years ago, Providence police became the first in the state to adopt the use of body-worn cameras.
“We’ve consulted with several other jurisdictions with professionals in the field and they rave about this technology,” Elorza said. “Nationally, about 70% of crimes involve a vehicle.”
“What license plate readers allow us to do is to not only capture license plates of cars that have been involved, but also be notified when that same car pops up somewhere else,” the mayor explained.
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Last summer, three Rhode Island police departments — Cranston, Pawtucket and Woonsocket — started testing out the technology.
However, the decision to use the technology has not been all positive. The Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wrote a letter to the mayor and city council in all three cities, arguing the cameras were installed “without public notice, input or statutory guidance.”
Elorza said the city of Providence plans to share its policy in the coming weeks.
“In every city that they’ve been deployed throughout the country, there have been concerns raised, or issues raised, with respect to civil liberties issues, and so we’re going to be out front and upfront, adopting best practices that have been developed in other jurisdictions, and we’ll let folks know exactly how they’re going to be used,” Elorza said.
Clements told reporters that with respect to the license plate readers, there will be audits “on a short basis.”
“The proof will be in the pudding,” he said. “These will be used for criminal events only.”