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City ready to pull trigger on replica gun ban

Officers' report says fake guns put public, police at risk; a council hearing is scheduled in late January
by: Jaime Valdez, Beaverton Police Officers Andrew Halbert and Mike Hanada hold examples of replica firearms police encounter when on some emergency calls. Halbert holds an H&K G36 assault rifle replica while Hanada holds a Berreta 92F that looks real.

Beaverton city officials are ready to prohibit airsoft guns and other realistic looking toy firearms from public places.

During a work session Monday night, city councilors encouraged a team of police officers and the city attorney's office to take a tough stand and tighten language of a proposed toy gun ban ordinance with firm penalties before a Jan. 22 public hearing.

The ordinance would cover realistic replica guns that often are mistaken for the real thing.

The councilors hope to reduce the confusion and alarm caused when the public spots someone carrying a replica gun.

They also want to save lives.

Beaverton's proposed toy gun ban ordinance is being proposed by the Police Department in light of an increasing number of incidents in which police officers responding to calls drew their guns on people carrying replica firearms that had a striking resemblance to a real weapon.

'This ordinance is very important to all members of the Beaverton Police Department,' said Beaverton Police Chief David Bishop. 'The purpose of this ordinance is to foster a safe environment for our community, the officers who respond to the calls and are put in the position to make the decision to shoot or not shoot, and also for the individuals displaying the fake firearms in a public place or school, who put themselves at great risk.'

Bishop likened a person carrying a replica firearm in a school or park to someone shouting 'fire' in a crowded theater.

'This has become a serious problem, and we want to address it before someone is seriously injured or killed,' Bishop said.

City councilors, after reading a detailed report and hearing a presentation, voiced their support for adoption of replica gun restrictions.

If approved, Beaverton would be the first Oregon city to put such rules in place.

'If we can save one kid from being shot or injured by mistake and an officer's career and mental health, it's well worth it,' said Councilor Dennis Doyle.

Councilor Betty Bode agreed.

'We don't want that pretend world to become real,' she said.

According to a study by Beaverton Police Officers Andrew Halbert and Mike Hanada, from July 1, 2005, to Dec. 1, 2006, there were 26 emergency calls on reports of a person with a gun. The study only analyzed calls in which police were able to locate the person involved.

Of the calls, seven people were arrested, some on unrelated charges. The guns in other calls turned out to be Airsoft toys or other realistic looking fake firearms.

In one case, police stopped a Beaverton school bus after someone reported that a passenger had a gun.

'It turned out that the fake gun never made it onto the bus, but that call put everybody on that bus in jeopardy of harm,' said Randy Kayfes, public safety director for the school district.

The study by Halbert and Hanada also revealed that so far this year Beaverton schools have been forced into six lockouts caused by 'gun' sightings near schools. The incidents disrupted classes and interrupted studies.

'Students do not learn where they do not feel safe,' Kayfes told the council. 'We can't take a chance with children's lives.'

On average, 5.74 officers respond to each 'gun' call, cutting into the 6.86 officers assigned to average shifts. Those officers are tied up for more than 80 minutes from the time they are dispatched to the time they get the 'all-clear' signal.

'Police officers are being placed in a situation where they are forced to make the split-second decision on whether or not to use deadly force,' Halbert said. 'Looking at the growing popularity of these replica guns, we want to take a proactive approach rather than a reactive one.

'We want to avoid tragedies that other agencies have faced around the country. So far, we've been able to avoid tragedies and we seek to continue that trend.'

Hanada agreed. 'We don't want to see anybody get hurt,' he added.