Some Stamford police officers are issued certain cellphones that they monitor 24 hours a day.
Calls often come in the middle of the night, and the officers usually don’t know the person on the other end.
It doesn’t matter.
What the officers want is guns.
“We don’t ask the caller to tell us their name; we don’t want to know their motivation for calling,” Assistant Police Chief Richard Conklin said Friday. “We just want them to lead us to an illegal gun.”
If the information that comes over the cellphone leads to an arrest and seizure of an illegal firearm, the caller gets $1,000. A police officer then will meet such a caller at an agreed-upon spot and hand over the cash, no questions asked.
Police don’t draw the payouts from the department’s budget. The money is raised by the Stamford Police Foundation, a 20-year-old citizens’ organization that supports the Stamford Police Department by covering the cost of initiatives the city doesn’t cover, Conklin said.
Gun Stoppers is “a highly successful program funded by a foundation made up of civic-minded Stamford residents who work to improve the city and support our agency,” Conklin said.
The program, an offshoot of Crime Stoppers, began in 2016, Conklin said. To date, it has led to 67 arrests, he said. The number of guns seized is larger, since police sometimes find multiple guns during one arrest, Conklin said.
“The arrests for the most part involve people with lengthy criminal backgrounds – what we call career criminals,” he said. “These are people on state or federal parole or probation, and many have an extreme number of cases pending. So this really hits home.”
Gun Stoppers is more effective than a gun buy-back program because of what police are able to seize, Conklin said.
“Most of the firearms we get are not old, dusty guns found in grandpa’s attic, which is what often happens with buy-backs,” he said.
An April 18 arrest on Perry Street, for example, turned up a Walther P380 .380 caliber semi-automatic handgun loaded with seven rounds, according to a police report. The gun, along with a number of others, had been stolen in Monroe, according to the report.
The weapon was seized after officers monitoring the Gun Stoppers phones forwarded a tip to the Narcotics and Organized Crime unit that a man with the nickname Juxx had an illegal firearm, the report states.
Unit officers were able to identify Juxx as 34-year-old Jason Simmons, a convicted felon with two pending court cases on firearms, narcotics and motor vehicle charges, the report states.
The most recent arrest attributed to a Gun Stoppers tip happened Thursday night, according to another police report.
Officers monitoring the phones notified the Narcotics and Organized Crime unit that a man identified as Hakim was in possession of a large amount of cocaine and an illegal firearm that he stored in his residence and in an inoperable vehicle in his driveway, according to the police report. Unit officers were able to identify Hakim as 40-year-old Hakim Hines.
They obtained a search warrant, went to Hines’ home and detained him, and found on the seat of the vehicle a Polymer 80 Inc. 9mm semi-automatic handgun with no serial number.
Such firearms are called “ghost guns,” Conklin said. Made of plastic, they are sold online as parts that can be assembled at home. They are unserialized, untraceable, and can be purchased by anyone – and without a background check.
Ghost guns pose a particular problem, even though recent laws made it more difficult to buy the components, Conklin said.
“We’re seeing a tremendous number of them in violent crimes,” he said.
In Thursday’s incident police found in Hines’ bedroom a high-capacity magazine – another dangerous element the department is trying to get off the streets, Conklin said. The magazine contained three 9mm rounds; police found a box containing 36 more rounds.
“High-capacity magazines are outlawed in Connecticut, but they’re very sought-after in the criminal world. They give you more fire power,” Conklin said.
During the Hines arrest officers also seized 35.6 grams of crack cocaine, 1.2 grams of crystal meth, drug packaging and a scale, according to the police report.
“Illegal guns and selling narcotics often go hand in hand,” Conklin said.
Police have in the past been frustrated by citizens’ reluctance to report crimes, tell what they’ve witnessed, and provide information about suspects. Gun Stoppers offers citizens a way to do that anonymously, Conklin said.
“They’re interested in getting the $1,000, so they’ll call in a tip and stay with us for weeks providing information until we get the gun,” he said.
Many of the illegal guns that end up in Stamford “come from states down south that have weaker gun laws,” Conklin said. “Many are stolen, often from cars. We have a tremendous number of car break-ins.”
The police department likes to advertise gun seizures because “we want to let people know we’re very aggressive about finding illegal guns,” Conklin said. “Criminals will have guns, but if we can prevent them from carrying them because they’re concerned we might be on to them, things are safer.”
When officers receive a tip that results in the arrest of a person with an illegal gun, the case is presented to the Stamford Police Foundation. Members then meet and vote on whether to award the $1,000, Conklin said.
“They almost always approve the funding,” he said. “We get some guns without this program, but many of the ones we are getting lately are based on this program.”
The department is grateful to the foundation for helping to remove dangerous guns, and people, from the streets, he said.
“I’ve been involved in many initiatives over the years, and this one is so simple and works so well,” said Conklin, who’s been with the department 40 years. “For a city on the I-95 corridor, and compared to cities similar in demographics and size, we have a lower level of violence. This is a tool we use to make Stamford safer.”