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Crime Stoppers, ATF launch partnership to curb illegal gun possession in Ky.

“With this initiative, we understand that to drive action, we’ve got to do something a little bit different, and that’s where this initiative is going to do something a little bit different,” said David Ashford, chair of Bluegrass Crime Stoppers

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Lexington Police Chief Lawrence Weathers speaks at a press conference announcing a partnership between Bluegrass Crime Stoppers and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on Jan. 10, 2024.

Chris Leach/TNS

By Christopher Leach
Lexington Herald-Leader

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Bluegrass Crime Stoppers and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives announced a unique partnership Wednesday, one that’s aimed towards taking illegal guns off Lexington’s streets.

The partnership is the first between a Crime Stoppers organization and the ATF, a federal agency. Both agencies are offering cash payouts in exchange for information that leads to an arrest and seizure of a firearm used in a crime, or the arrest of someone in possession of a stolen gun. “For this program to be successful, we need the community’s support,” said ATF special agent in charge Shawn Morrow said. “You can contribute to public safety by providing information.”

Bluegrass Crime Stoppers contributed $15,000 towards the fund while the ATF contributed $10,000. Cash payouts will be in the amount of $2,000 to $1,000 from each agency.

If the tip leads to the seizure of multiple guns, an extra $500 bonus will be attached.

“With this initiative, we understand that to drive action, we’ve got to do something a little bit different, and that’s where this initiative is going to do something a little bit different,” said David Ashford, chair of Bluegrass Crime Stoppers.

The idea for the partnership sprouted in the Spring of 2023 when officials saw a Facebook post about the number of guns stolen from cars. Word of the Facebook post reached the Bluegrass Crime Stoppers’ board room, and they volunteered to help.

Morrow also volunteered to help, and the entities agreed to the partnership aimed towards getting illegal guns off the streets.

“Tips can help provide crucial information that can help us solve crime or prevent them from occurring,” Lexington Police Chief Lawrence Weathers said. “I encourage everyone with information to let us know.”

Gun thefts in Lexington, Ky.

In 2023 there were 475 reports of gun thefts, according to Weathers. Over 86% of those reports were gun thefts from vehicles.

Morrow said these crimes directly contribute towards gun violence in the community.

“Something as simple as removing a gun from your vehicle and locking it away — something as simple as that can save somebody’s life,” Weathers said.

“They almost always land in the hands of someone who would do harm, and we know that, so that’s why this initiative makes sense for our community, makes sense for our police department,” said David Ashford, chair of Bluegrass Crime Stoppers.

Bluegrass Crime Stoppers: Tips help stale cases

In the last three years, tips to Bluegrass Crime Stoppers have contributed to over 189 arrests, 18 of which were homicides, according to Ashford. Over 100 firearms have been recovered and $300,000 in illegal cash has been seized, all from tips from the community.

Ashford said it’s incredible how one little piece of information can make a difference in a stale case.

“The person thinks that this is not anything significant and they decide to share it, that can just open the dam to more information,” Ashford said.

When an illegal gun is taken by authorities, it’s analyzed to see if it’s been involved in other crimes, according to Morrow. That can lead to other cases being solved.

“Collectively, that allows our ATF special (federal) agents and our police investigators to go investigate those crimes and draw links and better identify people who are using guns to hurt the community,” Morrow said.

Why is gun violence down in Lexington, Ky.?

Gun violence statistics were down in 2023. Lexington reported 24 homicides in 2023, much lower than the record-setting mark of 44 the year prior. The last time Lexington reported 24 or fewer homicides in a year was in 2018, according to data from the Lexington Police Department, which dates back to 2008.

“There are several reasons for the reduction in gun crime, but none more important than the tremendous job that Chief Weathers and his team have done on focusing on violent offenders,” Morrow said.

Morrow said there is still work to do in lowering gun violence, and he hopes this new partnership helps in that category.

“As we turn the corner into 2024, one of ATF’s top priorities is focusing on the sources of crime guns, and holding accountable those who would legally provide firearms to criminals who use them to harm our community,” Morrow said.

Lexington police encourage people with information about crimes to contact the department at 859-258-3600. Anonymous tips can be submitted to Bluegrass Crime Stoppers at 859-253-2020 or online on its website.

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