Webinar presenter David Hyche answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Dealing with Big City Gun Crime in Small Towns. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: Why do they call it a straw purchaser? And where does that term come from? You know, I know what it means, but I’m not sure what the history of the word is. I’m not sure if you do or not.
David Hyche: I am not sure of the origin of that term. A straw man is like a fake person. So, it’s a fake purchase. Buying a firearm for someone who cannot purchase one themselves or just buying a firearm for someone else to conceal the purchase. I’m one of my friends is going to send me a hey idiot, here’s what it is, e-mail or text here any minute. But, I’m sorry, I don’t know the origin of that.
Host: Got it. Well, Angela did share with us the definition is attempting to buy a firearm for another person who’s not legally able to purchase or possess one is considered a straw purchase. So, it is an illegal activity, and, of course, punishable as a federal crime. Thank you, Angela, for sharing that.
Audience Question: Public relations is a very important part of police departments now. How did you handle public relations? And do you have community and police meetings?
David Hyche: That’s a good question. And I do post a lot of information on social media, which has greatly improved, in my opinion, our public relations here. I also take visitors on a regular basis. As a matter of fact, I had one this morning, and even during COVID. We try to be, have open doors. And I’ve only been the chief for six months. This is pretty new, but I try to respond to public requests for interaction as much as possible. Also, I try to visit different civic organizations, churches, etc.. I think that public relations is extremely important. But, the one thing I would share is that the social media aspect. So, if you have a car chase in your city, and something happens, and everybody’s concerned, and everybody’s putting stuff on Facebook. I release what I can release as soon as possible. And I think the public really appreciates that transparency and it clears up misinformation.
Audience Question: Our department has seen a dramatic increase recently in the use of P80 ghost guns utilized in shootings. I believe an individual locally is purchasing the components, putting them together, and then selling them to criminals. Do you have any investigative techniques that you might be able to suggest to combat this?
David Hyche: Well, if you’ve got that information, it’s kind of like a drug case. You’re probably going to need an informant, somebody on the inside that can help you. That could introduce you, so you could do a buy. If you haven’t already talked to your local ATF office about that. It’s a tough, tough thing to investigate because it’s not illegal for people to make a ghost gun for themselves. It’s illegal for them to manufacture for someone else, but some of those gun laws like that are a bit convoluted. I mentioned earlier that there are some gun laws that are on the books that we really do need to enforce better. There are others that are not very well written. The dealing firearms without a license, gun law is pretty much garbage, and the trafficking you know, trying to get somebody that’s trafficking firearms is extremely difficult and the penalty is very weak. And I think most law-abiding gun owners who are knowledgeable about that being a problem and most gun dealers would agree with me on that. Law-abiding gun owners and dealers don’t want people selling guns to criminals. But yeah, that’s probably going to have to be worked, similar to a drug case. You’re probably going to have to get a buy done or multiple buys and show that the manufacturer is knowingly putting guns in the hands of criminals.
Host: Gotcha. I also wanted to share, Angela shares that a poster trace, which is the Post Office Trace of any mail coming into that address, is one way of addressing the issue of ghost guns. And then I know Pete Gagliardi is on this webinar as well. So, Pete, certainly if you have any suggestions that we might be able to share with David on ghost guns, let me know, and I can certainly forward that to him.
Audience Question: Do you have any problems getting a victim to want to prosecute the gun crime case?
David Hyche: Absolutely, what I was saying earlier about gaining the confidence of the public through publicizing significant sentencing helps a lot. I can tell the transition in Selma because we met in Selma frequently with the public, much more so than we did and Aniston and but the chief police in Aniston handle that end of it. But I could tell from our interactions with the public that the confidence in law enforcement grew. As we publicized our successes and we didn’t really publicize the techniques we used as much because we don’t want to educate the criminal but publicizing the successes was a gold mine. Communicating with the community leaders who felt like they didn’t have a voice and letting them know that we are taking violent criminals off their streets. I know that some officers feel like they shouldn’t have to do that but that’s an important part of the job, too. When you meet people that live in a neighborhood like George Washington Carver Homes in Selma it kind of opens your eyes. It’s not just a bunch of numbers and a bunch of stats. These are real people and families who are suffering enormously in those neighborhoods and they deserve a safe place to live.
Audience Question: In your experience at the ATF. Do you typically recommend that agencies print and or a test for DNA on firearms, magazines, and bullets when they are recovered on a subject?
David Hyche: No. You can’t do that every time and there are too many jurors watch CSI. They think you can take a leaf and plug it into a computer and it’ll tell you which tree it came from. Guns are designed to not smudge and hold prints. Prints are not used that often. There are certainly cases where prints need to be taken and where DNA needs to be processed. But in every case, every case, the gun needs to be traced and NIBIN needs to be used. And listen, I don’t work for ATF anymore. I work for a police department there are a lot of things now I’m asking ATF to do that they can’t do because they’re being pulled in a lot of different directions. But I have no reason to tell you that this stuff works other than it does and every gun that you take should be traced and every gun should be put into NIBIN. And if you don’t have access to a NIBIN machine right now, see what you can do to get one. At my department, we drive to Selma, thank you, DA Jackson. We drive an hour and a half to Selma now and put our recovered cartridge casings and test fires into the ATF owned machine there. We don’t have, a NIBIN machine. We’re too small an agency to justify the expense. I’m a believer in it. I put my money where my mouth is. When I was at ATF and I went around telling people that this stuff works, are like, yeah, well, whatever you worked for ATF. Well, I don’t anymore. I’m a consumer now. I’m not selling it, I’m buying it.
Audience Question: Very good point. And so, David is actually wondering, are you entering all firearms recovered for safekeeping into NIBIN?
David Hyche: No, if we recover it like we have a car accident or a medical emergency we recover the firearm and hold it for them. We’re not test-firings those or tracing. Any recovered firearm from a criminal matter, absolutely. We trace those and there may be people that disagree with me on that. But I feel like if, if you’re a law-abiding citizen and you have a legal firearm, we take care of it for you. If you’re in a car accident, and the guns laying on the side of the road will keep it here for safekeeping, then when you’re out of the hospital or you want to send a family member to get it, we turn your firearm over to you. And we do not do any testing or anything with your gun other than take care of it for you.
Audience Question: Is there any difference between IBIS and NIBIN? Or can you talk about what the differences there are?
David Hyche: It’s basically the same. IBIS is what we call that, prior to NIBIN. It’s basically the same system. And, really, all you need to know is that it’s the network ATF owns the network. And the individual machines are largely owned by the agencies that use them very similar to IBIS.
Audience Question: Are people less willing to talk to law enforcement in a small town versus a large city if there’s a crime investigation?
David Hyche: They are much more willing in a small town it’s been my experience than in a large city. When I worked in Atlanta, DC, and Birmingham, there seemed to be much more distrust and anti-police sentiment. There is some distrust here, but I think it is less because we are much more likely to be known by the citizens and we have a good bit of personal interaction with our citizens. I also believe that part of it is also the transparency that we have here. But you can’t compare a town of 20,000 with a city of several million. It’s just apples and oranges.