GREENFIELD, Ind. — Authorities in Hancock County are taking a strong stand amid recent incidents involving guns and realistic-looking BB guns.
Earlier this week, officials released a joint statement, making it clear that crimes involving firearms will not be tolerated in Hancock County.
“Gun violence has no place in our communities,” the statement read. “The Sheriff and Police Chiefs in Hancock County are committed to their mission of providing safe communities for everyone.”
In September alone, officers in Hancock County took 38 reports that involved firearms, including 19 in Greenfield, police said. Greenfield police said those calls include domestic violence, theft, disturbances, robbery, a report of persons shot, found property, and other incidents.
The Greenfield Police Department also investigated reports of juveniles pointing firearms at people at Riley Park and businesses around the city. During those investigations, police said it was discovered that some of the calls involved BB guns that resembled actual guns.
“We are seeing kids carry these BB guns around and they’re not taking them out in the country and shooting pop cans, they’re committing crimes with them or potentially committing crimes with them,” said Greenfield Police Deputy Chief Chuck McMichael.
According to prosecuting attorney Brent Eaton, his office meets several times a year with leaders of area law enforcement agencies to discuss what is going on in the county, how they can address any concerns, and make improvements to keep residents safe. It was during their recent meeting that these concerns were raised.
“There’s been a lot of those types of calls. It was something certainly on Greenfield police’s radar, so they brought it to our attention, and we said we all want to be safe,” said Eaton.
“Unfortunately we’ve had a few incidents in the last calendar year where we’ve had young people, and by young people, I mean people that are juveniles, under the age of 18 in Indiana, that are involved in violent offenses involving firearms,” said Eaton.
“There’s been a few other instances where maybe it’s not going to be generated to a criminal call; maybe there’s somebody that’s threatening self harm, maybe there is criminal activity where they’re threatening somebody else, or maybe it’s a disturbance.”
“Violence has increased across our country. We are not immune to that in rural Hancock county,” said McMichael.
One of their concerns, McMichael explained, is the juvenile involvement in crimes involving firearms and lookalikes, including realistic BB guns.
“When it comes to juveniles in possession of real firearms, obviously that has pretty stiff penalties, but even the look-alike stuff, the BB guns or the toy guns that they cut the red plastic tip off of, if they’re using them in ways that is a criminal act, then we can take action there,” said McMichael.
McMichael shared that the police departments in Hancock County, including GPD, and the Hancock County Prosecutor’s Office, are serious about holding people accountable that are involved in these crimes. They also want parents to be aware what their children are up to, because they said some incidents they’ve responded to are tiptoeing the fine line of becoming a criminal act.
“One of these things in the hands of a juvenile, pointing at somebody in a public place with a legally law-abiding citizen that is carrying their personal protection firearm, could take that as a threat of violence and take action,” said McMichael. “The heroic efforts of that young man in Greenwood; we would hate for something like that to have to happen because a kid is playing with a BB gun.”
McMichael said there is also a fear that someone pointing a realistic looking BB gun, which he said is a more prevalent situation that they’ve been seeing, could lead to catastrophic consequences in the event it is pointed at an officer during an encounter.
“That’s a very scary thought for me, knowing that it could be a BB gun but in that split second I have to protect myself or potentially somebody else,” said McMichael. “These aren’t toys and you can’t just point them at people just because you think it’s funny or whatever.”
The department showed FOX59 a BB gun recently seized during an incident at Riley Park, which is strikingly similar to a real gun.
“You can look at the front and you’re not seeing any difference,” explained McMichael. “So if somebody is pointing this gun at you or has it tucked in their waistband, that we see all the time, right, movies popularized that and all that kind of stuff; you see somebody pulls this out of their pocket or even their holster and they’re pointing it, those around and you are absolutely going to be in fear of your life.”
“When we started seeing this incident at Riley Park particularly, it was a summer day in August where this incident happened. They were families there with their kids. There were a bunch of teenagers just hanging around on the basketball court with a couple of these and they were pointing these at each other,” said McMichael.
Police said the incident was witnessed on city cameras, where juveniles were reportedly pointing guns, both real and BB guns, at each other and others in the park. He said they recovered this BB gun, as well as at least one or two others, and discovered that one person had a live firearm, which they were lawfully allowed to carry.
“This kind of drove home the seriousness of what these things can really do,” said McMichael. “In a split-second decision that has to be made in some of the circumstances, an officer is going to shoot one of these kids or a legal gun carrying citizen is going to shoot one of these kids because they don’t know the difference.”
McMichael pointed out that both the BB gun seized and a real Glock share similar features, including Glock manufacturer’s information on it, a serial number, and more.
“It’s got the takedown lever for the slide and even is imprinted, Glock, on there,” said McMichael. “That BB gun right there, you can buy on Amazon for 80 bucks. BB guns are not toys.”
Police said they are working to encourage parents to monitor their child’s activity and talk with them about the dangers of using a BB gun for purposes other than it’s intended.
“Buy your kids a BB gun for recreational purposes, take them out in the country somewhere where it’s legal to shoot them, and teach them about gun safety. BB guns are a great place to start because they learn how to manipulate the weapon in a way that is not typically a life-threatening firearm,” said McMichael. “BB guns can cause catastrophic injuries and could cause death if hit on the wrong spot.”
Eaton said his office has previously and will continue to prosecute offenses where firearms are used in a criminal manner by juveniles. Eaton also said many of the recent incidents across Hancock County resulted in the arrests of both adults and juveniles and that his office is working with police departments to determine appropriate criminal charges.
“If you are a young person, and you are a juvenile, and looking at potential behavior that is criminal in nature, that involves firearms, then should we be in a place where we have the facts and evidence to charge you, we will look at charging you as an adult,” Eaton said.
Across the county, the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office also responded to 17 calls involving firearms in the month of September, including threats, juvenile complaints, people with guns, a stolen firearm found in a ditch by a resident, and multiple reports of shots fired.
The McCordsville Police Department said it took six reports last month involving firearms, including domestic disputes, neighbor disputes, mental and emotional persons, home detention violations and juvenile threats of violence.
In Fortville, the department said it took one report involving firearms in September, which originated with a traffic stop. The New Palestine Police Department said it took two reports, including a traffic stop involving drugs and a convicted felon in possession of firearms and a self-inflicted gunshot injury report.
Additionally, Cumberland police said their department took four reports last month that involved 13 firearms. One of those reports was related to a homicide and two people shot, with a total of seven firearms recovered.
“Crimes involving firearms will not be tolerated in our county,” the joint release stated.