Q: When I was a child, my family celebrated the New Year at my grandfather’s ranch. We fired guns into the air when the clock struck midnight. Now that I’m an adult, I do know the dangers of shooting guns into the air and would not participate in such dangerous activity. What are the laws regarding shooting guns into the air? Will the police investigate each call they receive about such activity?

A: It is against the law to shoot a gun into the air for the purposes of celebrating the New Year. While law enforcement, in partnership with the community, local businesses and the media, has made an impact on reducing indiscriminate gunfire, the problem continues to exist. The men and women of the Santa Monica Police Department are once again asking the community to celebrate the New Year safely and responsibly. Don’t fire guns in the air. Remember what goes up, will come down. When a bullet comes down, it will most likely be traveling at a velocity strong enough to cause severe injury or death.

Many times individuals involved in celebrating New Year’s Eve with gunfire do not realize the dangers posed by their actions. Researchers report that a bullet fired into the air can climb two miles into the air and remain in flight for more than a minute. As it falls, the bullet reaches a velocity of 300 to 700 feet per second. A velocity of only 200 feet per second is sufficient to penetrate the human skull.

Celebrating the New Year with firearms is very dangerous. The Santa Monica Police Department will respond to all calls received regarding gunshots being observed or heard. Each call will be investigated to determine whether or not someone was using a firearm to celebrate the New Year. If we do find people shooting their guns in the air or ground, they will be arrested. In my experience, most of the calls that I have responded to on New Year’s were not gunshots. They were fireworks. Remember, fireworks are also illegal in Santa Monica and those observed using them can be subject to a fine.

The Santa Monica Police Department would like everyone to have a safe and prosperous holiday season. Please celebrate the New Year responsibly.

Important things to know:

n Shooting a gun into the air anywhere can be a felony. You can spend up to one year in prison if you are caught.

n If you’re arrested for shooting a gun into the air, you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

n If a stray bullet from your gun should kill someone, you will be arrested and charged with murder.

n People involved in celebrating the holidays by shooting their guns do not realize the danger posed by their actions.

n If you ever see someone fire a gun into the air, call the police immediately.

n Celebrate the holidays safely and responsibly. Don’t fire guns into the air.

Q. For 2011, I would like to make necessary changes in my life to be healthier and safer. I’ve attended my Neighborhood Watch group meetings and have often heard police officers say “make yourself a harder target for criminals.” Can you give me some suggestions to make myself a harder target?

A. It is great to know that people like you are attending Neighborhood Watch meetings. The Santa Monica Police Department will continue to work diligently at reducing crimes and keeping the city safe, but we do need the public’s help. You can help us by being a “hard target.” Simply put, a hard target is someone that makes a criminal put forth a lot of effort to complete a crime. Criminals look for easy ways (unlocked doors, inattentive people, and unattended items) to commit their crimes. There is no foolproof way to prevent yourself from being a crime victim, but here are some things you can do to make it more difficult for a criminal to choose you or your belongings:

n Don’t leave valuable items unattended or in plain view in your car.

n Know your surroundings and make eye contact with people you encounter.

n Try not to over-expose expensive personal items (watches, jewelry, purses) in public especially when you’re alone.

n Keep the volume low on mp3 players and music devices when you exercise in public (parks, city streets, and beach). You should be able to hear someone approach you when listening to your music.

n Lock every door and window on your car and home when you leave.

n Don’t leave valuable items unattended or in plain view in your car.

n Use sturdy locks for your bike, like a U-lock.

n Use secondary locking devices on your home’s windows (wood dowels work great in window tracks).

n Avoid parking in poorly lit areas.

n Install motion sensor lights around your home.

n Get to know your neighbors (you can watch out for each other).

n Let your neighbors know when you’re going to be away on vacation.

n Don’t leave valuable items unattended or in plain view in your car. (Are you seeing a pattern?)

This is just a short list of some actions you can do to make yourself a “harder target” for criminals. The list could be broken up into sections for personal safety, vehicles, and homes. If you would like more information on how to make yourself a “harder target” or join a Neighborhood Watch group, visit the Santa Monica Police Department’s website www.santamonicapd.org and contact your neighborhood resource officer or crime prevention coordinator.

This column was prepared by NRO Mike Boyd, Beat 8 (Pico Neighborhood). He can be reached at (424) 200-0688 or michael.boyd@smgov.net.

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