To combat the uptick in gun-related crimes over the past few years, Independence Police recently formed a gun squad of four detectives and a sergeant, and it aims to send as cases it can through the local U.S. attorney's office for federal charges.
This year alone, IPD Sgt. Seth Bosch said, Independence has had about 175 such crimes, including homicides, aggravated assaults and robberies. Weapons cases involving minors have likewise risen, he said.
One of the gun squad detectives is part of the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) Task Force, and in a few weeks two ATF agents will be assigned to IPD. The department also has two dedicated officers assigned to the school district who work with school resource officers to track juveniles with weapons violation arrests and monitor their behavior.
Bosch said the three-month old gun squad's main focuses have been felons and drug users in possession of guns, as well as shots fired calls. They'll also investigate straw purchasers – one who buys a gun for someone prohibited from possessing a gun or who doesn't want their name associated with the transaction.
“We can focus more on (gun crimes),” Bosch said.
Since January investigators have been assigned 88 felon and drug user possession cases, more than 50 percent have been charged through the federal system, Bosch said. Ten percent have been charged through the state, and the rest are still under investigation or pending lab results. That figure doesn't include multiple such cases filed by the drug or street crimes units.
Felony charges can often mean more prison time, and Bosch said investigators have developed a good rapport with federal prosecutors.
“We're hitting (defendants) hard,” he said.
Next month the City Council is to vote on a minor update to the city's ordinance regarding minor possession, removing the provision for conceal carry, as Missouri is not a conceal-carry state. Kansas City recently approved ordinances prohibiting minor possession without parental consent, essentially mirroring Independence's long-existing ordinance.
One additional provision Independence law has is that if a parent or guardian allows a minor to possess a gun, whether it be for hunting or target shooting, the minor first must go through certified safety training.
“Which I think is important,” Bosch said. “We're still ahead of the game (there).”
The sergeant acknowledged that parental consent is light, but it's still a tool for law enforcement.
“If we go contact the parent and they said, 'Yeah he can have it.'… But if he's using it illegally, there could be consequences for the parents, as well,” Bosch said.
“I think it's very important that we're aligned with a neighboring city,” Independence Mayor Eileen Weir said about gun laws, “so people don't feel there's more leniency if they come over to Independence from Kansas City, or vice versa.”