Police officials from Anniston, Oxford and Jacksonville, along with others from the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives gathered on the steps of the Calhoun County Courthouse for a formal announcement of the program. It is designed to combat what they said was a high level of crime connected to firearms. Federal officials will help local agencies investigate the crimes, and charge them with federal offenses when possible.
“There’s too much violent crime,” said District Attorney Brian McVeigh at the press conference. “What we’re doing isn’t working.”
A study done this year by ATF showed that 5,989 firearms were reported stolen to Alabama law enforcement officials in 2012. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a separate study from 2010, reported that 738 people were killed by firearms in Alabama in 2010; of those, 284 died in homicides or interventions by law enforcement, while 454 died as a result of suicide.
In May, McVeigh said, he and other Calhoun County leaders approached U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance of Birmingham to discuss possibilities to help stop violent crimes in and around Anniston.
Vance, speaking by phone Wednesday, said she was pleased that county leaders realized there was a problem with violent crime in Anniston and came to her for help.
“Calhoun County has a very engaged community leadership that wants to reach out and stop the problem before it becomes too prevalent,” Vance said.
Vance teamed McVeigh up with ATF to establish an anonymous Crime Stoppers hotline through Jefferson County. Resident who see violent crimes involving firearms can call 205-254-7777. The number will soon be posted on various billboards throughout the city, officials said Wednesday.
“Often the best way we get information is from citizen tips,” Vance said. “I’m really excited about the opportunities for citizens to come forward.”
According to Jeff Fulton, an ATF special agent, callers will be rewarded for providing information through the hotline, which also will be available to tipsters in Birmingham, Mobile and Montgomery.
Michael Knight, a public information officer with ATF said he estimates the program could cost federal agencies up to $100,000 per year, which includes rewards and investigative expenses.
According to McVeigh, before the hotline, it was the responsibility of a law enforcement agency to contact ATF to tell them about firearms-related incidents they might not otherwise have known about. Now, federal agents can go out with local agencies to see if a case is actually worth pursuing.
Fulton said the initiative will focus on stopping violent criminal acts involving firearms such as theft, distributing firearms, or giving them to people who aren’t allowed to have them.
“This is an opportunity for this county that doesn’t happen all the time,” McVeigh said. “This time next year I want to be able to stand here and tell you we have less violent crime now than we did at this time last year.”
Calhoun County Sheriff Larry Amerson said he thinks the hotline will be beneficial because he has seen the amount of effort and involvement community member’s put into Calhoun County Crime Stoppers.
“Crime knows no boundaries — criminals move around. We need to have interagency cooperation to share information. At the end of the day, working together will make Calhoun County safer,” he said.
Anniston police Chief Shane Denham said because violent crime is hard to fix and to understand, what the county really needs is help from the community.
“Without public involvement we’re going to be dead in the water. If you have information, call. We need your help,” he said.
“It’s critical for people in Anniston to understand they can make a difference. They have a voice and can really make an impact to help keep criminals off the streets.”
Staff writer Madasyn Czebiniak: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @MCzebiniak_Star.
Editor's note: This story has been modified to add information about the firearms-related deaths in Alabama in 2010 reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of the 738 reported deaths, 284 were as a result of homicide or legal intervention, while 454 died as a result of suicide.