MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis law enforcement has been teaming up with churches to keep guns out of the wrong hands.

“We didn’t get in this overnight. I don’t think we’re going to get out of this overnight,” said Charlie Caswell.

Caswell wears many hats. He’s a Shelby County commissioner, the Outreach Pastor at Impact Church in Frayser, and a Memphis native. Each plays a role in why he feels the way he does.

“I grew up in Dixie Homes projects. At the age of 14 years old, I witnessed one of my friends killed. At 15 years old, witnessed another friend killed right in front of me, so violence is something I grew up with,” he said. “It seems to have gotten a lot worse.”

The first half of the year, Memphis police reported more than 3,500 incidents involving a firearm. MPD also says 40% of the guns used in crimes were stolen from vehicles.

Police say this has been in the making for quite some time. In 2014, a Tennessee law went into effect allowing people to carry guns in their cars without a permit.

However, people have been keeping their guns unsecured inside their car when they’re not in it. Sometimes, they’ll even leave their car unlocked.

Thieves caught on.

The number of guns stolen from cars in Memphis continues to grow. Thousands of guns are now in the wrong hands.

“We are still being challenged with our auto thefts and thefts from motor vehicles,” an MPD spokesperson told the council recently.

MPD said thieves are breaking into cars just looking for guns. They are begging people to stop leaving firearms unsecured in their car.

A message, according to the Memphis Shelby County Crime Plan, they want community groups and faith-based organizations spreading. They hope to “expose large segments of the community,” so that “they can help reduce violent crime by securing the firearm they own.”

Caswell says he’s on board.

“Some of these pastors and leaders have been in the church 10 to 20 years. Some of these churches, 50 years. You have three or four generations building relationships with those entities, those institutions in the community,” he said.

They’ve developed trust with their churches. Trust, that oftentimes, officers may not have.

“I think police see the value of it,” Caswell said.

Caswell is a graduate of MPD’s Clergy Police Academy. It’s a program working to strengthen and support relationships between law enforcement and faith-based leaders. MPD said no one was available to do an interview, but in an email, stated there are 499 graduates. That’s who they ask to help share information like not leaving guns unsecured inside a car.

“Wherever we can find a way to be a voice to the community around things like gun safety, that’s what we will do,” Caswell said.

Police across the state said they’re also dealing with the same issue.

“It’s called car hopping. Usually, in a stolen car, they drop them off in a neighborhood and very boldly go driveway to driveway and jiggle the handle,” Clarksville Police Chief David Cockarell said.

Just like MPD, Clarksville police is trying different ways to get the message across.

“We have tried to break it down. We have paid for signs in the neighborhood. We have used community engagement officers. Billboards,” said Cockarell.

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The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation says they’ve also launched educational campaigns and have had conversations about requiring car manufacturers to add some kind of locking device.

Caswell says his church has brought in an expert to teach them about gun safety. They’re trying to bring awareness to a problem that’s fueling the violence.

“Especially in times like this where we are seeing so any people dying, because we are not doing a better job staying safe with our guns in the cars,” Caswell said.