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Unit Takes Aim at Illegal Guns

Safety: A $360,000 federal grant will help pay for a four-year task force that plans to crack down on unlicensed sales of firearms.

June 14, 2002|SUFIYA ABDUR-RAHMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo announced Thursday the creation of a special unit to prosecute people who illegally sell guns.

The new four-year unit, to be called the Gun Prosecution Task Force, will initially be funded with a $360,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. That money will help the city attorney's office pay for three additional prosecutors for three years, Delgadillo said at a news conference at the North Hollywood police station. The city is responsible for the cost of the task force's last year, he said.

The prosecutors will work with the Los Angeles Police Department to identify illegal gun sales. Specifically, he said, city lawyers will check on the more than 160 gun dealers in Los Angeles who hold federal firearms licenses to make sure they also have local police permits, Delgadillo said.

"Every year," he said, "there are more people killed by firearms than cars in Los Angeles.

"This is a local public safety problem that deserves a local solution."

There are currently eight detectives in the LAPD's gun unit, but they often run into trouble getting prosecutions due to a lack of evidence, said LAPD Lt. Steven Nielsen. Nielsen said the addition of lawyers to the unit should help police identify in advance the evidence needed to win a conviction against a gun dealer.

By working closely with specialized prosecutors, Nielsen said, "our resources are going to be much more honed in."

Ruett and Rhonda Foster, who lost one son to gun violence and are still dealing with the injuries that another son suffered, joined Delgadillo and other city officials in announcing the task force and expressed hope that it would help curtail gun violence. The Fosters' 7-year-old boy was killed in an Inglewood shooting in 1997.

Ann Reiss Lane, a former member of the Los Angeles Police Commission and now the chairwoman of Women Against Gun Violence, praised the formation of the task force as "a major effort to keep guns out of the hands of criminals."

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