City Lawmakers Exploring App-Based ‘Guns for Bail’ Exchange

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Last night, a resolution went before the Baltimore City Council asking members to consider letting the city  trade bail time to defendants in exchange for their firearms.

The proposal came from Councilman Brandon Scott of the 2nd District. Rather than an actual bill, the measure is a resolution that, if adopted, says the council “supports the creation of a Guns for Bail program.”

“Many have pushed for innovative ways to recover some of these weapons and allowing them to be turned in in lieu of bail could be a great way to achieve multiple goals,” the text of Scott’s resolution reads. “Baltimore is in a gun violence crisis and we need to strongly consider any viable way to get guns off our streets.”

The inspiration for the idea comes from Baltimore-born entrepreneur Trevor Brooks, who started a company called GunBail. It uses an app that would let a defendant take a picture of his or her firearm and submit it to police. The company would then send a secure box with a trigger lock to the defendant. Once received by authorities, the defendant’s bail costs would be covered.

Police wouldn’t drop charges or make any other type of exchange, though under GunBail’s model, they would need to agree not to tie the defendant to other crimes found to be committed with the same firearm.

Brooks has a compelling story. As a teenager, he got into an “altercation” with a friend while holding a gun, according to a promo video on GunBail’s website. The friend was shot and killed, and Brooks was sentenced in 1993 to life in prison, with all but 45 years suspended. He served “close to 20 years” of the sentence before he was let out. When he returned to the outside world, he devised his idea as a way to prevents guns like the one he had obtained as a teen from ever getting into the wrong hands.

“GunBail is a way to diminish the opportunity to kill, to give us enough time to repair our communities,” he says in the video.

His startup has received plenty of backing. An Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign has raised $40,000, far exceeding its $25,000 target.

His hope is for Baltimore to serve as the pilot location for his program. The city is a fitting candidate in 2017, with 122 homicides recorded so far through this morning, and a 24-percent bump in shootings through the last week of April, according to the most recent police data. Just last week, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives lent the city a hand with investigating its many shootings by sharing its high-tech mobile logistics van.

Scott’s resolution notes authorities have held buyback programs exchanging cash for guns in the past. For this idea, the Baltimore Police Department, State’s Attorney’s Office of Baltimore City, Maryland Office of the Public Defender, courts and others would have to get onboard and figure out a way to make it legally possible.

Baltimore Police chief spokesman T.J. Smith wrote in an email that the department is “always looking for creative ideas to get guns off of the street. We met with the founder of this idea, but an idea like this deserves a lot of scrutiny.”

He noted legal components for its implementation would need to be addressed, and that police don’t oversee the bail system.

Melba Saunders, spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office, said in an emailed statement that “at a time where gun violence continues to plague our communities and bail reform is at the forefront of our minds, such innovative programmatic concepts are inspiring.”

Prosecutors previously met with Brooks and some of his partners and investors, Saunders said. “We thought the program required more development from a legal standpoint. We look forward to learning of the developments made since our last meeting.”

Council members Eric Costello, Sharon Green Middleton, Leon Pinkett and Ed Reisinger co-sponsored Scott’s resolution. The council referred it to a hearing with police department leadership, which is set for later this week.

This story has been updated with comment from the State’s Attorney’s Office of Baltimore City.

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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