Thousands of dollars still owed to gun buy back program participants

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wwltv.com

Posted on May 21, 2012 at 10:16 PM

Updated Friday, May 25 at 8:00 PM

Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News
Email: mhernandez@wwltv.com | Twitter: @mhernandezwwl

NEW ORLEANS - Beneath gray skies on a rainy Saturday morning, hundreds lined up to trade their guns for cash. Nearly 400 weapons were turned in to the Greater New Orleans and Jefferson Gun Buy Back Committee.

But there was one problem.

"We didn't have enough cash to pay everyone," said Rafael Goyeneche, head of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, and member of the buy back committee.

It's a problem that, more than a week later, organizers are still working to solve.

The 12th annual program, funded by donations, had $10,000 to give out in exchange for guns. It ran out within an hour and a half.

But instead of turning people away, organizers issued I.O.U. vouchers for 173 weapons - almost half the guns turned in.

Now, the committee has to raise an additional $13,000 to make good on their promise to pay.

"We still have a ways to go," said Goyeneche. "We want everyone that has a ticket to come in and retrieve the money that we promised them. And we hope to learn from this and grow the program."

Those with vouchers were told they would be paid Wednesday, May 16, at the earliest.

Rev. Norwood Thompson runs the program, but has been directing those with vouchers to call the Metropolitan Crime Commission.

Goyeneche is digging into the Crime Commission's budget to make sure everyone with a voucher is paid. Since Wednesday, 66 people with vouchers have been paid $5,300. Goyeneche is hoping donors step up to help replenish the commission's coffers.

"If all we did was prevent one injury from this, $23,000 is less than one emergency room visit," said Goyeneche. "So this is a wise investment."

Goyeneche has raised $2,200 since the vouchers were handed out. But with $7,700 worth of vouchers yet to be redeemed, there's a long road ahead.

It's the first time in years the gun buy back has been held in New Orleans. It was previously held in Jefferson Parish. Goyeneche said this is the first year officials have had to give out thousands of dollars in vouchers.

"I think what it says is, the people of this community are more engaged and more willing to participate in these types of initiatives than ever before," said Goyeneche.

The program was held this year at Little Zion Baptist Church on Earhart Blvd. The reverend of that church said his phone has been ringing off the hook with people wondering when they'll get their cash. But he said his only role in the program was to offer a venue for the day, and he's been unable to help.

The number for the gun buy back program is 504-494-9779. The number for the Metropolitan Crime Commission is 504-529-3148.

Goyeneche did not know how much cash the program gave out last year. In 2009 in Jefferson Parish, the program had $20,000 in donations to give.

Reverend Thompson has not returned our calls for comment.

The New Orleans Police Department and the City of New Orleans play a limited role in the program.

"It was decided early on that the NOPD's involvement would consist of collecting and securing the guns at the event safely," said NOPD spokeswoman Remi Braden. "We hope to host gun buy backs in the future, because we think they make the streets safer and provide another way for officers to work with the community."

"The city supports the gun buy back effort, and the NOPD partnered to provide security and to allow for the transfer of weapons," said city spokesman Ryan Berni. "That is the extent of our involvement."

The NOPD helped secure $2,000 from the Police and Justice Foundation for the initial $10,000 in funding.

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