Can New Intelligence Center Crack Gun Trafficking in Chicago?

Several law enforcement agencies are joining at Chicago’s Crime Gun Intelligence Center, coordinating data and analysis in order to crack down on crime in the city.

Summer spikes in gun crime are nothing new in Chicago, but this year the city has drawn more attention than usual after 11-year-old Shamiyah Adams was killed at a sleepover on July 18, and following 82 shootings during the Fourth of July weekend.

Zachary Fardon, the newly sworn U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, whose official appointment to the spot brought the nation's top prosecutor, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder - and with him promises of funds and resources - to Chicago/Web photo via mainjustice.com
Zachary Fardon, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, whose appointment to the spot brought the nation’s top prosecutor, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder – and with him promises of funds and resources – to Chicago/Web photo via mainjustice.com

Arthur Lurigio, professor of criminology at Loyola University in Chicago, said these events helped push through the intelligence center, which isn’t a new idea.

“It’s a great idea,” he said. “I wish we had undertaken it sooner.”

In early June U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon announced the Chicago Crime Gun Intelligence Center, housed in the Chicago field office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. ATF agents work with the Chicago Police Department and the FBI Chicago field office, along with agencies in Indiana, to better understand the underlying patterns of gun violence in Chicago.

A major reason for coordinating across state lines is the fact that gun violence has no borders: 60 percent of guns used in violent crimes in Chicago came from a different state, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Sen. Dick Durbin toured the center in late July.

“You can’t fight a war without intelligence, to know where the weapons are, where the shooters are and to stop it before it happens,” Durbin told reporters.

By combining intelligence from agencies around the country and through all levels of government, the center aims to curb gun trafficking and resultant violent crime. “It could also lead to arrests by linking guns seized from people in Chicago to crimes all over the country,” Durbin told the Associated Press.

Lurigio said the ATF is the right agency to head the intelligence center, since their information and jurisdiction aren’t bound by Chicago’s borders.

“We’re in a crisis and we’re stymied locally,” Lurigio said. “It’s not that the police department has failed.”

Chicago’s ATF office recently gained seven additional ATF agents, and the city assigned 20 additional officers to work with FBI agents “to curb gangs and violent crimes,” according to the DOJ. In total, more than 100 FBI agents and 52 ATF agents are working prevent violent crimes this summer.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago has also been reinforced: Fardon assigned a team of prosecutors to target violent crime.

The intelligence center brings together myriad crime fighting agencies, including the Chicago Police Department and the Illinois State Police, as the city’s violent crime tally rises: there were 1,254 shootings as of July 28. Earlier in the month, police announced they had seized nearly 4,000 illegal weapons this year.

Lurigio recalled past crime fighting methods, when police departments would use colored pins to map different crimes throughout the city. Now, the intelligence center will allow them to map crime in real time.

The DOJ will also use community oriented policing tools and work with initiatives such as Project Safe Neighborhoods and the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention. Neither politicians nor crime fighters have found the silver bullet for Chicago’s violence.

At the same time, police are getting creative in New York City, where there had been 562 shootings as of July 6. The New York Police Department will begin using rooftop sensors, part of the ShotSpotter system, to find the exact location of a gunshot. The system works by placing microphones in the area so that the sound of a gunshot can be triangulated. The two-year pilot program will cover 15 square miles.

Like the ShotSpotter, Chicago’s intelligence center links small pieces of information together to find larger patterns in gun trafficking and crime. Because the center works with agencies in Chicago and Northwest Indiana, it boasts several National Integrated Ballistics Information Network labs, which analyze guns, shells and bullet fragments recovered by law enforcement. These labs help agents find connections between different crime scenes.

“Strategically, we’re able to link all these unassociated events together,” John Durastanti, assistant special agent in charge at the Chicago ATF office told the Post-Tribune.

“The most successful agencies are the ones exploiting the information from inside and outside the crime guns and evidence that they encounter,” according to Forensic Technology, which created the Integrated Ballistics Identification System, something which the Crime Gun Intelligence Center will be equipped for, thanks to its NIBIN system and its partnership with other law enforcement agencies.

Durbin introduced legislation earlier in July that would crack down on straw purchasers—a person with a clean record who purchases a gun and gives it to someone who is barred from purchasing one—and gun traffickers. According to a statement by Durbin – and echoed by Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy – much of the gun violence in Chicago stems from firearms that are straw purchased or trafficked.

Lurigio said that although crime rates have dropped this year, violence still plagued the city, and gun trafficking plays a major role.

“Guns are very durable and reliable products unfortunately,” he said, lasting up to fifty years if properly maintained. “They’re instruments of death that can work very well.”

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