Calif. cops canvass streets to curb celebratory gunfire

By Karl Fischer
Contra Costa Times

Sure, Jerry Wooldridge heard the gunfire. Which time?

"Oh, it's a little disconcerting. But it is normal," the 40-year resident said in front of his home in central Richmond. "I hear it every Fourth of July, and every New Year's Eve."

Until Friday, he never saw anyone appear in his driveway to ask about it. But now, after every holiday known for celebratory gunfire, police intend to knock on doors in neighborhoods with gunshots in hopes of learning more about why, and stopping it in the future.

"Our primary focus is education." Lt. Dave Harris said. "But the idea is also to get into that neighborhood and get a sense of what's going on."

For decades, residents simply accepted the steady pop of gunfire as a static feature of the holiday season in Richmond, a small city with a long history of irresponsible firearm use. People ring in the new year by firing a few rounds into the sky, despite the obvious danger posed by gravity.

New Year's 2011 proved no different, with 42 multiple-gunshot incidents recorded by police sensors from 11:30 p.m. Dec. 31 to 12:30 a.m. Jan. 1.

In years past, police and civic leaders tried to address the problem with informational campaigns and pamphlets, employing slogans in their informational campaigns such as "Have fun, don't shoot your gun."

But nowadays police can do better, thanks to modern technology. The Shot Spotter gunshot detection system, which Richmond added in 2009, tells officers when shots go off and where, to within a few yards.

Using that information, police know where to look the next morning.

"I think it's this side," said Sgt. Ruth Ducharme, looking down a fence line near 16th Street and Chanslor Avenue. "You can see that people hang out there, and there's a scorch mark on the ground. It might have been fireworks."

A crew of officers still dropped English and Spanish leaflets in the neighborhood, encouraging neighbors to call 911 when they hear gunfire. On some blocks, shootings often go unreported because the sound of gunfire is commonplace.

Officers rarely catch shooters by canvassing a neighborhood a few days after a holiday, but they do learn much about the people on the block, and on whom to keep an eye.

They also send a message -- they know someone shot a firearm, and they're looking into it -- that they hope will curb future shootings. If the police know, they may come back.

That's welcome news for Jennifer Pacheco, who takes her family out of town on holidays such as New Year's.

"We leave. We just don't want to deal with it. We shouldn't have to deal with it," Pacheco said. "I just hope this helps put the fear into some of these people. I have two kids, and these people are shooting. I mean, what goes up must come down."

Copyright 2011 Contra Costa Newspapers

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