GUNS SHOULD BE THE PRIORITY The Escambia County Commission has been trying to figure out how to rid the area’s roadways of beggars since March 2007. Pensacola City Councilman John Jerralds wants to institute a county-wide teen curfew because he believes that it will curb juvenile crime.
Both efforts are misguided. Escambia County has bigger problems. Illegal guns trump panhandlers and teenagers walking home after high school football or basketball games.
Operation Anything for a Buck seized over 270 illegal firearms off our streets in just an eight-month period. According to law enforcement officials, the average undercover operation that uses storefronts to capture criminals wanting to unload stolen goods takes in about two firearms a week. The Escambia County operation averaged eight illegal guns per week, making it the largest haul per capita in the nation.
“We found that we have more of a gun culture than we thought,” Sheriff David Morgan shared with me the day after the indictments were made public. “It’s a status symbol on the streets to have a gun.”
At the beginning of the year, the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office implemented a strategic plan that was developed by Chief Deputy Larry Aiken to combat violent crime and gun violence. The goal was to reduce the number of gun-related crimes within Escambia County, including drive-by shootings, carrying concealed firearms and homicides. Operation Anything for a Buck was part of the strategic plan.
Nowhere in that plan was shifting the ECSO’s manpower and resources to enforce a panhandling ordinance or a teen curfew. And while Councilman Jerralds wants children off the streets after 11 p.m., it’s more important to get illegal guns off the streets. Jerralds may not realize that juvenile arrests take hours to process and the county has no room to jail curfew violators.
The same is true for the misguided efforts to deal with panhandlers. Yes, they are nuisances, but when they are arrested, the deputy or policeman performing the arrest is taken off the streets while the detainee is processed. Besides, the county’s ordinances have been challenged as being either unconstitutional or unenforceable.
The county commission and the Pensacola City Council need to move beyond “Ponies & Balloons” ordinances that look good around election time, but only tie up our law enforcement officers while bigger criminals run free. In an era of limited financial resources, the ECSO and Pensacola Police Department should focus on the real crime.
To paraphrase a political slogan from 1992, “It’s the guns, stupid.”