POMONA — New Year's Eve on the streets of Pomona may be worse than a war zone, says one police captain: The people armed with guns are untrained, undisciplined and, in many cases, drunk.
"Sporadic rounds start at 11 o'clock and (the gunfire) starts building at 11:30," Capt. Jim Harding said. "By midnight it's constant: boom, boom, boom, pop, pop, pop."
Pomona has yet to record any deaths from stray bullets on New Year's Eve, but there have been injuries. So this year, the Police Department is serving notice that it will deploy extra police and prosecute anyone who fires a gun into the air.
Any bullet fired into the air is going to come down and could easily strike someone, Harding said, adding: "We want people to know we're taking this seriously."
Pomona's major crimes task force, with seven experienced officers, will be on duty New Year's Eve, he said. But to succeed, police will need witnesses. Harding said callers who report gunfire will be asked to give their names and to provide descriptions of suspects, if possible.
In addition, he said, police are asking witnesses to tape-record the sound of gunfire. "We don't want anyone videotaping and getting shot," Harding said, but an audio tape from the safety of a home could be used as evidence.
Shortly after midnight, an additional group of officers in three two-man teams will begin taking statements from witnesses and gathering evidence where shots have been reported.
Pomona Municipal Court Judge Jack P. Hunt will sign search warrants on New Year's Day. Another group of three two-man teams will serve the search warrants.
Anyone who celebrates the New Year by firing a gun should know that "we're going to come into your house on the first of January while you're watching bowl games and serve warrants," Harding said. "We're going to look for weapons and ammunition, and if we find something, somebody's going to jail."
Gunfire on New Year's Eve is a problem in many parts of Los Angeles County, Harding said. Last year, eight people were reported injured countywide.
But few areas in the San Gabriel Valley experience as severe a problem as Pomona. For example, at the sheriff's station in Temple City, which serves Bradbury, Duarte, Rosemead, South El Monte and Temple City, Lt. Ron Tardiff said that every New Year's Eve several people fire guns, but there are not enough incidents reported to warrant deployment of extra deputies.
In the city of Los Angeles last year, an enforcement effort involving hundreds of police officers resulted in 75 arrests and the seizure of 134 guns.
A 1988 California law specifies that willfully discharging a firearm in a grossly negligent manner that could result in death or injury to a person is a felony punishable by up to a year in jail.