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Miami Police Warn Against New Year's Gunfire

Authorities in the U.S. city of Miami, Florida say the New Year's Eve tradition in Miami of firing guns in the air at midnight to mark the New Year seems to fading away. The dangerous pastime has killed several people in recent years, prompting local police and community leaders to start a campaign aimed at ending the practice.

Delrish Moss, a spokesman for the Miami Police Department says he will never forget New Years Eve in 1994.

"Several years ago I was a homicide detective working a murder in one of Miami's worst neighborhoods,” he recalls. “It was getting close to midnight on New Year's Eve. Just at midnight bullets just rained down from all over the place. It was just like being in the middle of a war zone, you could hear gunfire everywhere. It was so bad we had to take the body off the scene, get pictures quickly, and basically hide behind apartment buildings to make sure no police officer got hurt. That was one of the times where I felt helpless and very scared."

Delrish Moss's experience was not unusual. For years police officers on patrol on New Year's Eve have warned each other to take cover in the minutes just before and after midnight on New Year's Eve as city residents fired their guns in the air. In the 1990's at least three people were killed and six others injured by stray New Year's Eve gunfire.

After a five-year-old girl was killed in a stray gunfire incident in 1997, community leaders began a campaign to end the practice. Police officers and community activists went door to door in Miami neighborhoods warning residents of the dangers of firing guns in the air. Joe Martinez, the chairman of the Miami-Dade County Board of Commissioners says no one has been injured by New Year's Eve gunfire since 1999, making the program a success.

"Well it has made the community aware that when something goes up it has to come down,” he says. “You do it (firing guns) in joy, it has been done for many years, but it is time it stopped. People are getting killed and injured. Children celebrating the New Year's are getting hurt. So the awareness is now there and in the last eight years injuries and deaths have been reduced to almost zero and that means the program is working."

Delrish Moss of the Miami Police Department says the practice of firing guns in the air on New Year's Eve is not limited to inner city neighborhoods but people in those neighborhoods are most at risk from injuries from gunfire.

"Rural neighborhoods suburban neighborhoods and inner city neighborhoods; it is a problem everywhere,” he adds. “But in the inner city it is more of a problem because the population is more concentrated, thus the chances of someone getting hurt are greater."

While police say the practice of firing guns in the air on New Year's Eve seems to be fading away in some Miami neighborhoods many who live in those neighborhoods and the police who patrol there say they still plan to be somewhere safe in the minutes just before and after New Year's Eve.