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Chattanooga Police Department Photo / Paintballers are seen in the 2500 block of 4th Ave. (Baker South)

Chattanooga police have taken out arrest warrants on 62 people in connection with 21 incidents of paintball battles that have been taking place in different areas across the city recently.

Police say the battles appear to have started in early May as a fun game among friends but have since morphed into targeting others who aren't involved in the activity, leading to 72 calls to police between May 1 and May 18. Most of the activity takes place between 5 and 10 p.m., although reports have recently subsided, police spokesman Sgt. Jeremy Eames said Tuesday.

While police declined to confirm who has been arrested so far, citing the ongoing effort to make arrests, at least four people are known to have been arrested. Many of the suspects, including those who haven't yet been arrested, face two charges: disorderly conduct and reckless endangerment, both misdemeanors.

According to reports in the four known arrests, police were called to the Rawlings Street area four days in a row for "kids shooting paintball guns."

Many of the people who police spoke to said they were aware of the paintballing and didn't want to press charges.

Since then, police have determined that "the reckless usage of a paintball gun in public areas does instill a panic or fear in the general populace of the city," and they have been retroactively working to identify those involved in the paintballing.

Between May 4 and 7, police spoke with at least five groups of people who had been playing paintball, according to Hamilton County court documents. One group was in a black Jeep Wrangler that had been shot several times with paintballs. Another group was hanging out of a vehicle's windows while shooting at another car. And three other groups were playing on Rawlings Street.

Each group told police they had their neighbors' permission and were only shooting people who were participating. One group even told officers they would clean up houses and vehicles that were hit.

In one of the incidents, a store owner on Dodson Avenue called police on May 6 after "a large group" of people were in the parking lot shooting paintballs at each other, as well as the store and vehicles. Officers spoke to the players, verified that the neighbors were fine with the paintballing and then left.

A short time later, a woman called police back to the same area to report a large group of people "running around and shooting paintball guns at people's houses and people in the streets," including her house door.

She asked police if she could remain anonymous and said she didn't want officers to show up at her house to assess any damage.

"While all of the participants that were shooting paintballs may have been in agreement to be included in the activities, they did not have permission of all other residents in the area," one officer wrote in an arrest report. "Their actions could have caused citizens in the surrounding area to be in fear" of getting hit by paintballs or suffering property damage.

Atlanta rapper 21 Savage is credited with starting the movement "guns down, paintballs up" two years ago in an attempt to curb gun violence in Atlanta. Early on, the games in Chattanooga were connected to that movement, Chief David Roddy has said, while noting an appreciation for the game's intent.

"We would much rather, as a police department, have paintballs going through the air of Chattanooga than real bullets," he said.

But, as in other cities where the game has spread, it has started "to cause real fear" and real injuries, whether "intended or not," Roddy said.

Contact Rosana Hughes at rhughes@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @Hughes Rosana.

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