This week, Syracuse’s Common Council voted to pass an agreement that would turn confiscated and surrendered guns and bullet casings into jewelry, where local non-profit organizations against gun violence receive about 20 to 25 percent of the proceeds.
The agreement between the Common Council, the Syracuse Police Department, and Liberty United—the organization who change spare gun parts into jewelry—will last for three years.
“The weapons conversion program seems to be a symbolic gesture to promote a cause,” said the Common Council’s former Chair of Public Safety Jake Barrett.
And yet, this gesture has failed to reach its full implementation capacity. According to Barrett, since there is no way of knowing how many guns or weapons people may have, it is difficult to measure how successful the police department’s abilities of confiscating these weapons are.
“Making jewelry for high end customers, or low, has promotional value, but no law enforcement value,” he said.
Although a Liberty United representative was unable to reach, according to the organization’s website, jewelry items range from slightly expensive—a cuff bracelet for $ 95—to even more expensive—a $3,895 white sapphire necklace.
According to Common Councilor Bob Dougherty, a portion—20 to 25 percent—of profits made from this jewelry go to anti-gun violence programs.
“The proceeds have gone to programs at the Southwest Community Center which is at ground zero of our gun violence problems,” Dougherty added.
However, this program reveals an issue with the police department’s role in it.
During Barrett’s experience as the former Chair of Public Safety, he said the police department is not always fully compliant with this conversion program.
Barrett even added that throughout multiple meetings concerning the seized gun program with Syracuse’s police department, there was a “lack of transparency and no sense that the converted funds were under any sort of oversight.”
“It was a kitty control by an unelected official, the Chief of the SPD,” Barrett added.
Syracuse’s police Chief, Frank Fowler, was unable to be reached for comment.
However, police Sgt. Richard Helterline said the police attempts to monitor all reports of gun and gang violence, adjusting their security measures according to the level of violence in a specific area.
“It could happen anywhere and it does happen everywhere,” Helterline said. “We’ve had incidents throughout the whole city at different points throughout the years, so it’s not one specific area, and that’s a part of what we’ve been doing, is tracking it before it becomes an issue in any area.”
Syracuse is no stranger to gun violence, which is why Liberty United’s attempt of tackling gun violence is one of many in the area.
Cure Violence, for example, is part of a state-run program, SNUG, that was first introduced to Syracuse about a year and a half ago, although it was just implemented last August, according to Cure Violence’s former project manager Raheem Mack.
“The reason that Syracuse was chosen as a site is because per capita, the shooting numbers and the homicide numbers is pretty high,” Mack said.
The program involves bringing in people who had been involved in gun violence in their past and have found a way to move forward and away from violence.
“We try to get that high-risk individual in that high-risk community before the actual shooting happens,” Mack said. “Talking to them, giving them a new avenue or mechanism to deal with their conflict, giving them an opportunity to change their mindset in dealing with how they deal with conflict in our community.”
Although Helterline said most of the calls the police receive don’t necessarily relate to gunshots or gun violence, he also said these cases of gun violence in general are “pretty serious.”
However, despite the police department’s efforts in decreasing gun and gang related violence, Councilor Barrett brings up the role police officers play in areas where they may not necessarily be trusted.
“Gun violence most usually has some sort of witnesses to it,” said Barrett. “That no one comes forward to give testimony is indicative of the lack of confidence our affected neighborhoods have in law enforcement.”