Press-Republican

February 17, 2013

Area gun theft rose 36 percent in 2012

Serial numbers, description crucial in locating weapons

By FELICIA KRIEG
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Reported gun larcenies increased 36 percent in State Police Troop B’s area in 2012.

In terms of total firearms, the number is up 37 over the 141 cases handled in 2011 by all law-enforcement agencies in Troop B’s area, comprising Clinton, Essex, Franklin, St. Lawrence and northern Hamilton counties.

LOCAL BREAKDOWN

In the tri-county area, gun owners in Clinton County were hardest hit, with 66 reported stolen in 2012.

That’s a spike from the 28 firearms cases in 2011.

Essex County followed, with 25 guns reported swiped in 2012, a slight increase from the previous year.

The 13 guns reported stolen in Franklin County last year represents a 50 percent decrease from 2011.

Some local law-enforcement agencies fail to report their gun-theft cases to the State Police, according to Senior Investigator Christopher Keniston, who works in Troop B’s Gun Investigation Unit in Ray Brook. 

While he guesses there could be as much as a 10 percent gap between State Police data and actual reported cases, he said, “I think we’re dealing with fairly accurate information.”

CITY GUN THEFTS

“Last year, we had several reported handguns stolen from either residences or vehicles,” said Plattsburgh City Police Chief Desmond Racicot.

A drug-related arrest in the city eventually led police to a weapon that was stolen from the Plattsburgh area, he said. It was recovered in Brooklyn in November 2012 with the help of New York City Police.

MISSING INFORMATION

In 2012, 73 percent of those reporting long guns stolen were not able to give police a serial number or accurate description of the weapons, Keniston said.

That’s a common issue.

“This makes our job extremely difficult in trying to solve these crimes,” he said.

“What we find is most people don’t have good documentation on any of their property,” Racicot said.

Gun owners should record their firearm’s manufacturer or importer, model name, serial number, type and action, caliber or gauge, date acquired, cost and the purchase location.

This information should be kept separate from the firearms, Keniston said.

GUN STORAGE

Most people do not store their firearms in gun safes due to the high cost of those storage units, he said.

“A gun safe is what we promote,” he said, but using a trigger lock can deter some thieves.

Racicot said that, in all the cases he has investigated, the guns “were secure within the home but they were unsecured in the house — put in a closet or in a cabinet.”

When a gun is reported stolen, its serial number (if available) is entered into a national database as a permanent record until the weapon is recovered, Keniston said.

And State Police will send a stolen-property flier with the description to area dealers, even if the serial number isn’t known.

While dealers aren’t required by law to check a firearm’s serial number to make sure it wasn’t stolen, they will usually notify police if they think its ownership is suspect, he said.

THREAT TO COMMUNITY

Stolen guns have a myriad of fates.

“When guns are stolen, they’re being taken for value,” Keniston said.

Some thieves may use them for protection, swap them for drugs or money or keep them as collectibles, he said.

“What bothers me is I know criminals are keeping them.”

Gun-theft cases are considered serious crimes by Plattsburgh City Police because they threaten the safety of the community, Racicot said.

“Even if we only had one gun reported stolen, that’s a gun on the street. It’s not legally owned, we wouldn’t know who has it, what the intended purpose would be and how careless that person could be with the weapon,” the chief said.

’THEFTS OF OPPORTUNITY’

The majority of stolen guns were taken during the course of burglaries that occurred in summer and fall, Keniston said.

“Most are thefts of opportunity. There are very few residences that are targeted because of guns.”

Most homes from which firearms are stolen are located in rural areas, he said.

“People are going to go to a house where they think they can get away with (breaking in) and not be seen.”

Almost all guns reported stolen in 2012 were taken from private residences, with a few swiped from vehicles during hunting season, Keniston said.

“Several homes hit had significant collections,” with more than a dozen rifles, he said.

Gun dealers in Troop B’s area haven’t fallen victim to theft in recent years, he noted.

FEW RECOVERED

Unfortunately, most stolen guns are gone for good.

“Historically, law enforcement recovers about 25 percent,” Keniston said.

Those found may not surface until weeks, months or years have passed since the initial theft, he said.

“We’ve recovered guns all over the nation, including Canada and New York City.”

For the vast majority of the 8,793 guns recovered and traced statewide in 2011, the “time-to-crime” period — the time that passed between the gun’s theft and the occurrence of the crime that led to its recovery —  was three years or longer, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Office of Strategic Intelligence and Information.

The top three cities in New York for gun recovery were New York City, Rochester and Buffalo, the agency reported.

Keniston said it’s too early to tell how the newly passed New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act may affect gun theft.

Those who are found to be knowingly in possession of a stolen gun are charged with fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property, a felony.

Email Felicia Krieg:

fkrieg@pressrepublican.com

KEEP TRACK OF YOUR GUNS State Police recommend gun owners inventory their weapons using a form from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Find the "Personal Firearms Record" at www.atf.gov. Click on "Publications" then "Firearms," then choose ATF 3312.8. Gun owners should include the following information in their inventory: the firearm's manufacturer or importer, model name, serial number, type and action, calibur or gauge, date acquired, cost and the purchase location. Contact the New York State Police Gun Investigation Unit at 897-2093 to request a free copy of the form or to report any suspicious gun activity.