YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — The city is bringing back the anti-gun “Operation Steel Penguin” program as the weather gets warm.
The program, run in conjunction with the state Adult Parole Authority as well as the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, looks for people who are not supposed to have guns.
The program, which was run in the city in the first nine months of 2019, uses patrols in areas where gun crimes and arrests are high as well as home visits to offenders on probation and parole.
At a press conference Tuesday to kick off the program for 2021, Mayor Jamael Tito Brown said the effort is one he is duty bound to make as mayor to ensure people are safe in their neighorhoods.
Brown said himself and police Chief Carl Davis, who took over at the beginning of the year after Brown and former Chief Robin Lees had a falling out, have been hitting the streets themselves recently, attending community antiviolence events as well as “stop and talks” in city barber shops, which Brown said were helpful because they were able to gauge residents’ concerns directly.
Brown said such efforts have led to a rebuilding of trust with residents and the police department and people have been calling him and Davis with information and tips recently.
Brown also said that troopers with the Ohio State Highway Patrol will also be patrolling the streets to crack down on traffic violations, including a portion of Interstate 680 where troopers will be looking for signs of distracted driving.
Brown warned residents to make sure they obey all traffic laws and to not be on their phones while driving. He said troopers will not be giving warnings but will instead issue citations.
Davis said those who are still using guns who are not allowed to have them need to be held accountable.
“They believe they are above the law,” Davis said. “They are not.”
Since the middle of October, the department has been running their own extra patrols in areas with high levels of gun violence after the month saw 19 people shot, three fatally. Those patrols have led to the seizure of over 50 guns, Davis said.
Overall crime has also decreased in the city, with the city felonious assaults, robberies, burglaries, and breaking and enterings, both at homes and businesses.
As of Tuesday, the city has seven homicides so far as compared to 11 at this time last year. Youngstown saw 28 homicides in 2020, an increase from the 20 it saw in 2019.
Firearms were used in all seven of the city’s homicides this year, while they were used 10 of the 11 at this point in 2020.
City statistics show that as of Sunday, the city has seen 35 shootings, down four from 39 at the same point in 2020. However, those statistics also include shootings where no one was wounded.
Unofficial statistics kept by WKBN show that 28 people have been wounded in the city so far this year, up from 23 people wounded at this time in 2020. Overall for 2020, 98 people were wounded. In 2019, 58 people were wounded.
Davis said an advantage of cooperating with the U.S. Attorney’s Office is that gun sentences are harsher than in state court, where the maximum sentence for someone not allowed to have a gun is three years. In federal court, an offender can receive up to 10 years if the right conditions are met and parole is almost non existent.
“If you are illegally caught with a gun, you will do time,” Davis said.
Capt. Jason Simon, who will help coordinate the patrols from the city end, said the goal is “focused deterrence,” or looking for people who continue to use guns even though they are barred from doing so.
“They deserve a little more attention and they’re going to get a little more attention,” Simon said.
When asked when the patrols will begin, all Simon would say is, “soon.”
The city took part in the program in 2019 after ending 2018 with 13 homicides within the last 10 weeks of the year. Because most of the suspects in those homicides were known to use guns, it was decided to go after people prohibited from having weapons.
Officials credited the program in reducing the number of homicides in 2019 from 2018, which saw 28 homicides.
The program was not run in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.