Those convicted of gun-related crimes may think twice before committing them again, as Prince George’s County officials are looking to create a gun offender registry that would track convicts and potentially hamper gun violence throughout the county.
The Prince George’s County Council is considered a proposal that calls for convicted gun offenders to be registered in a database so authorities can easily track their whereabouts.
County Councilwoman Karen R. Toles (D-Dist. 7) of Suitland originally sponsored the bill, which would require convicted gun offenders to share background and information with police and regularly check-in with the department to ensure they are not committing other crimes for a three- to five-year period.
If convicted of an additional gun offense while listed in the registry, separate sentences would be added onto the standard criminal sentencing for that offense, Toles said, another way to deter felons from committing repeat offenses. Other additional offenses such as burglaries and thefts may also impact the sentencing if offenders are already on the registry, Toles said.
Being on the registry would add a proposed $1,000 fine and or six months of jail time, on top of an existing sentence.
“In the past, if you get out of jail, you go about your normal routine and may come back again for the same thing in a couple months,” Toles said. “This is an effort to watch you to make sure you’re not going to go out there and repeat this offense.”
Toles said the legislation was in the works several months ago, but added shootings involving children sparked its passage.
On Aug. 22, 2011 in Landover, a toddler was in his mother’s arms outside when he was shot in the face by a stray bullet from an apparent gun battle in the 3000 block of Brightseat Road. On April 9, a 6-year-old boy accidentally shot himself and died inside his Clinton home after finding a handgun inside a Spiderman-themed book bag belonging to a 20-year-old man who was living in the same residence.
The legislation, CB-14-2012, which passed with a 9-0 vote in the County Council on May 1, is set for a public hearing June 5 before a final council vote, said Kerry Watson, public safety liaison to County Executive Rushern L. Baker, III (D).
Deputy Police Chief Col. Craig Howard said the gun offender registry would work similarly to the existing sex offender registry, and would be run out of the same unit.
There is currently one police sergeant and five detectives serving in the sex offender registry unit and Howard said he would like to see two additional officers in that unit, which would also house the gun offender registry if the legislation is implemented.
Toles said the registry would gather information such as place of residence, employment status, employment history and contact information so that if there is a repeat offense, law enforcement officers can easily track down the individual.
“Clearly, this would give the police department an opportunity to really get deeper into helping reform gun offenders in Prince George’s,” Watson said. “If an offender knows the police department is right around the corner, they’re less likely to commit offenses, and for that reason alone it has tremendous benefit to the county.”
Since 2007 to date there have been 573 homicides and of those homicides, 429 involved handguns, said Howard, noting the high percentage of gun-related murders.
Howard said the proposed registry unit in the county, mirrors programs in Baltimore, New York City, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., which have existing gun offender registries. He said their registry programs have been successful in tracking gun offenders and reducing repeat offenses.
“This puts them on notice that county police are paying attention to them. It says that we know about the crime they’ve been convicted of and we are taking it seriously,” he said. “This is not intended to infringe on the rights of law abiding citizens. It is only for people who have broken the law and have been convicted.”
The public hearing for the proposed bill is set for 10 a.m. June 5 at the County Administration Building in Upper Marlboro.