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Valley police urging safe, responsible New Year celebrations

PHOENIX — The New Year is a time for celebration, so law enforcement agencies across the Valley are urging people to keep their parties safe and responsible.

The Phoenix Police Department held a press conference Wednesday alongside Mayor Greg Stanton and former Mayor Phil Gordon to remind residents that celebratory gunfire is dangerous and not acceptable.

“It’s a stupid thing to do,” said Assistant Police Chief Harry Markley.

Arizona has had a ban on shooting rounds into the air since 2000, after 14-year-old Shannon Smith was killed in a Phoenix neighborhood from a stray bullet in June 1999.

Gordon said he lived minutes from the home where Smith died, and he helped get statewide legislation, referred to as Shannon’s Law, passed to ban the act.

“That evening, (I) received one of the hardest called I could get … that my good friend Otis and Laurie Smith’s daughter had died by a horrible, horrible incident,” Gordon said. “Somebody late at night had shot a gun into the air. Police estimate it could have been shot as far as two miles away, so that person may to this day not even know that he or she killed a beautiful, young 14-year-old with her whole life ahead of her.”

Gordon said it is common sense that whatever goes up must come down — including bullets — and that shooting guns into the air puts people at risk.

Within the city of Phoenix, celebratory gunfire is a serious crime for which Markley said there will be no warnings or citations. He said if police catch someone shooting into the air, the suspect will be arrested and taken to jail.

“If you’re convicted for a violation of Shannon’s Law, you face a punishment of more than five years in jail,” he said. “The bottom line is it’s stupid, it’s dangerous and it’s very irresponsible.”

Calls for random gunfire have drastically reduced in Phoenix. On New Year’s Eve of 2000, during the half-hour before and the half-hour after midnight, Markley said police had more than 700 calls for shots fired citywide.

By 2013, that number had reduced to 265; however, Markley said that is still 265 calls too many.

“This year, we’re going to have increased patrols out on the road and we’ve implemented maximum staffing,” he said. “We’re going to be out looking for violators.”

Phoenix Police Sgt. Trent Crump said the department is asking for the public’s help in reporting any random gunfire.

“If gunfire has already occurred, we’re asking that you call the non-emergency number so we can respond over to the area and look for those who may have created the violation,” he said. “If you know that shots are going to be fired, or they’re imminent, or people are in the process of doing it, or you hear something along with it (such as) screaming or yelling that would indicate that this might not be random gunfire, those are the types of calls we would like to come in to 911.”

Phoenix PD’s non-emergency number is 602-262-6151.

Besides cracking down on Shannon’s Law violators, law enforcement around the Valley will be out looking to catch impaired drivers.

In Tempe, where tens of thousands will gather for the annual New Year’s Eve Block Party, extra officers will be out on the streets performing DUI patrols.

“We’re going to have extra patrols out there, and on top of that, we’re actually going to the DUI Task Force, which is going to be here in Tempe,” said Lt. Mike Pooley of the Tempe Police Department. “You’re going to see officers from other agencies that are going to be here doing DUI enforcement.”

Those celebrating the New Year with alcohol have options such as taxis, rideshares and AAA Tipsy Tow as alternatives to driving.

In an attempt to encourage people not to drink and drive, Valley Metro announced free fares on transit systems for the second New Year’s Eve in a row.

“When you go out, remember if you’re going to drink and you’re going to risk driving, there’s a good chance you’re going to get caught and you’re going to get arrested for that,” Pooley said. “We set aside a certain amount of officers specifically for this reason.”