Authorities in Bloomington-Normal say the number of gun seizures rose significantly in 2020 with police seizing a total of 94 firearms. That's a third more than the 61 seized in in the two communities in 2019.
Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner said it's not a new trend.
"I think there are more firearms out there. From time to time, we have what they call straw purchases where someone will make a purchase who has a FOID card and they will illegally transfer it to someone who can't legally own a gun. But we also have a fair amount of thefts that happen," said Bleichner.
Indeed, Bleichner said officers in Normal recovered seven stolen guns last year. Often gun owners leave their weapons in vulnerable locations -- unlocked in a house or in a car, for example. In recent years, Bleichner said another kind of gun theft has become prominent.
"Gun shops have become the target of individuals to break in, specifically to break in to steal firearms," said Bleichner, adding his department started prioritizing gun cases three or four years ago.
"Now, if we have a case that is simply narcotics and one that has weapons, if we only have enough resources for one, then we'll focus on the firearms because what we have seen is taking them off the street and getting them out of the hands of those who want to use them illegally, help drive our crime numbers down," said Bleichner.
Bloomington Police Department spokesperson John Fermon said that department takes the same approach.
"We've always been trying to focus on violent crimes. This is just an extra add-on for the supervisors in the vice and street crimes unit," he said.
A total of 21 of the guns seized in Bloomington last year came via the street crimes unit, Fermon said. In Normal, 33 of the seized gun cases also involved an arrest, according to department figures.
Fermon cautioned against reading too much into the increased numbers.
"It can come or go. This year we could get less gun seizures, but that doesn't mean that our street crimes unit and the patrol officers aren't out there doing what they do to try to prevent violent crime," he said. "t could mean we didn't stop the right cars or people are carrying guns less because they're afraid that they may get caught. It's always hard to know exactly what it is."
Both departments took in about the same number of guns in 2020. Police in Normal seized 46 guns last year, up from 32 in 2019. Police in Bloomington seized 48 firearms, up from 26 the previous year.
In some years, one or two cases involving a large number of guns might skew the average. BPD and NPD said that was not the case from 2019 to 2020.
This year has begun with activity as well. Police in Normal said they have seized six firearms in the last week.
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