Gunshots not always a crime - East Valley Tribune: News

Gunshots not always a crime

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Posted: Friday, March 21, 2008 8:17 pm | Updated: 11:26 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

The 911 call came last Sunday: "Shots fired." Three gunshots were reported, and Pinal County sheriff's deputies drove to a patch of desert east of a Queen Creek-area neighborhood.

No shooter was located. No bullets found. And deputies had to write off the call as GOA, or gone on arrival.

"I'd say that more than 80 percent of the time, these calls fall into the category that they aren't life-threatening or anything suspicious is going on," sheriff's Lt. William Haigh said.

The sheriff's office handled more than 400 shots-fired calls last year. On busy days, deputies saw more than a handful of calls, which can turn out to be anything.

Often, it's someone target shooting in the desert, or a teen firing at rabbits. Sometimes, it's just firecrackers.

The calls are common in both urban and rural areas. However, in places such as Pinal County, they often aren't triggers of criminal activity like in many cities and towns.

"People move out here and hearing gunfire is something that's new to them," Haigh said. "When you start getting the new mixing with the old, you are going to have these types of calls."

Pinal deputies made only two arrests last year stemming from shots-fired calls.

The main reason: it's not illegal to shoot guns in many areas of the county.

In Arizona cities and towns, it's almost always illegal to shoot a gun. But outside city limits, Arizona law states that someone cannot discharge a weapon within a quarter-mile of a building, Haigh said.

Other than that, there are few regulations.

"To be honest, the fact that Arizona is wide-open for being able to put a firearm on your hip and walk around leaves things pretty open," Haigh said.

In most cases, officials said the calls they receive are from concerned residents.

However, callers often hear shots fired from farther away then they realize. "With the canyons, mountains and open areas, you could hear a gunshot from more than a half-mile away," Haigh said.

However, sheriff's deputies still take the calls seriously and investigate them all. But putting cases together can be difficult.

More than 60 percent of the time, deputies aren't able to locate a shooter. When deputies receive the calls, they are directed to areas that can often span several miles.

"It's not as simple as finding a specific address," Haigh said.

The majority of shots-fired calls come on the weekends and holidays. There is also an increase on days when the weather is nice.

Usually, it's just one person reporting shots, sheriff's officials said.

However, in crowded cities such as Mesa, shots-fired calls come daily and in spurts, with 10 or 15 people reporting the same incident.

When that happens, it raises a red flag that there may have been a violent crime, Mesa Detective Chris Arvayo said.

"You know it's something serious when you hear that many come in," Arvayo said.

Large cities also use shots-fired calls to track and measure possible gang activity.

But Haigh said residents throughout Pinal County shouldn't be as concerned if they hear shots.

"We try to reassure them that their communities are safe, and they are not in the middle in a shooting war," Haigh said. "We let them know this happens out in the area. "Well, unless there's bullets whizzing past their houses. That's different," he said. "Then they need to call."

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