Saturday, February 28, 2004

Undercover team tracks gun sales

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

WEST END - Undercover Cincinnati police officers bought 10 guns from a man over the last several months in their newest attempt to get weapons off the city's streets.

For years, officers have posed as drug buyers to arrest drug dealers. But going undercover to buy weapons from street-level gun dealers is a new approach for Cincinnati police, officials said Friday.

Officers said Michael Wright, 28, of Morrow, would walk up to almost anyone in the Avondale White Castle parking lot and ask if they wanted to buy a gun. Sometimes, officers said, he traded a gun for marijuana.

Officers with Cincinnati's Project Disarm arrested Wright on Thursday night. He faces federal charges including selling weapons without a license. He remains jailed in Hamilton County.

In four months, officers said they bought 10 guns from Wright, including three Russian SKS assault rifles, one with an 80-round magazine; a 12-gauge shotgun and six pistols. The investigation started with a tip.

"I can say with confidence that he was very active,'' Sgt. Jeff Hunt said.

Some officers didn't think Chief Tom Streicher would let them work undercover to buy guns because of the potential risk involved.

But Streicher said using the undercover approach is important.

"There's a risk in operating this way, with these reverse purchases,'' Streicher said. "But sometimes we need to use unconventional methods - trading drugs for weapons is unconventional. It's worth the risk to us.''

Gun confiscations jumped 30 percent in 2003 compared with 2002. And officers arrested 471 people on gun charges, a 13 percent increase over 2002.


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