As Gun Seizures Climb, N.C. Police Department Struggles to Store Them

July 3, 2024
Designed to accommodate just over 3,000 firearms, the Greensboro Police Department's evidence storage facility is now housing nearly 12,000, and a 2013 change has contributed to the space crunch.

The good news is that police appear to be doing a better job of getting guns off the street. The bad news is that gun crime has increased this year in Greensboro.

As of June 23, Greensboro police had seized 807 firearms this year — significantly higher than the 646 they had sized by the same time in 2023.

“I think it just shows the prevalence of guns, and the number of shootings, and the access to guns,” police Capt. Anthony Price says. “So, I think that’s why you see a lot of firearm confiscations taking place ... because there’s just a lot of firearms in the community.”

As of June 23, there were 586 aggravated assaults committed with a firearm compared to 491 by the same time last year. Additionally, as of June 23, there have been 356 total shootings into occupied dwellings compared to 303 by the same time in 2023.

On the positive side, however, homicides are down — 18 as of June 23 compared with 30 by the same time last year.

Police say the increase in gun confiscations is not entirely driven, however, by more gun crimes being committed this year. More efficient police practices are also contributing to higher arrest rates for gun crimes.

“Our focus is crime gun-centric meaning what we’re trying to do ... is not just seize guns,” Price said. “We want the people that are doing the shootings, the robberies, and the homicides.”

Price credits Chief John Thompson for bringing a more data and analytics driven approach to the department.

He specifically pointed to the department’s adoption of the model of the Crime Gun Intelligence Center 16 months ago as a driving force behind increased arrests in cases dealing with gun crimes.

The Crime Gun Intelligence Center takes shell casings from crime scenes, then uses ballistics to determine what type of gun fired the round and hopefully pinpoint the precise weapon used in a shooting which can be traced back to an owner.

“It’s evidence-based right,” Price said. “The evidence is what’s driving us to the person holding the crime gun, not just saying, ‘hmm that person may have a gun.’”

According to data provided by spokeswoman Annette Ayres, Greensboro Police seized 1,582 firearms in 2022 and 1,541 firearms in 2023.

Kelly Moore, the director of forensics for the Greensboro Police Department, said the department is on track to substantially surpass those numbers this year.

“We’re on pace for over 1,700 right now,” Moore said.

Where to put them?

While increased gun confiscations improve safety in the community, those guns have to be stored somewhere, and the police evidence storage facility designed to accommodate 3,056 firearms is currently housing nearly 12,000.

“Over 80% of the guns that are seized or collected by members of the Greensboro Police Department are evidence,” Moore said. “They are seized with the intent to be used and produced at a trial or for prosecution.”

Other firearms that end up in the vault are often lost guns that were found and turned over to the police or guns taken by police for the purposes of safekeeping.

Gun storage has become a problem for the police department largely as a result of policy changes dating back to 2013, Moore said.

Before 2013, police departments were allowed to destroy firearms if they were no longer needed as evidence and couldn’t be returned to their owners. Since the laws changed, police are allowed to destroy firearms only if they don’t have a legible serial or identification number or if they are unsafe for use.

It can be very difficult to return guns to their owners for a variety of reasons — one being sometimes the owner loses their legal right to possess a firearm.

If a gun is confiscated as evidence for a felony and the owner is convicted, they would legally lose the right to own a firearm under North Carolina law and that gun would remain in storage indefinitely.

Additionally, sometimes the owner of a gun is unknown or police may not have accurate contact information to reach them.

Couple this with the fact that the average annual number of guns seized by the Greensboro Police has increased sharply since 2013 and the result is major storage issues.

“Before the law change, for every 100 guns coming in, 70 were going out; now for every 100 coming in we’re adding 70 to our inventory,” Moore said.

Before the law change, the department destroyed around 200 firearms a month. In the decade since the new regulations have been in effect, they’ve destroyed roughly 200 firearms, total.

To account for the decade’s worth of collected firearms, shelving and containers have been added to the vault. But Moore said the situation has put a lot of stress on the department.

“A lot of manpower focus is placed on ... where are we going to fit this gun? Like there’s no more room,” Moore said. “Some of the shelving units are kind of like bowed, you know, and it’s like you’re waiting for something to topple over, and you don’t want that to happen either.”

Under the law, police departments do have the right to sale, trade or exchange confiscated firearms under certain conditions, but Moore said the department doesn’t do this regularly because the record keeping would be burdensome.

“There’s a lot of work that would go into continuously engaging in the option for sale, trade, exchange,” Moore said.

Last March, state Rep. Marcia Morey, D- Durham, successfully introduced House Bill 284 intended to restore the ability of police departments across the state to destroy firearms that can’t be returned to their owners.

The legislation is currently in committee, and Moore said she hopes the bill is revisited and passed during the next legislative session.

“It would be a tremendous benefit,” Moore said.

The other bad news is increased confiscations also worsen the department’s already existing issues with evidence storage.


(c)2024 the News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.)

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