Twenty federal gun agents have been assigned to Chicago to join a newly formed task force aimed at cutting the flow of illegal guns into the city and cracking down on people repeatedly arrested on gun charges.
Hours after the Chicago police department sent out a news release about the task force, President Donald Trump claimed credit for sending in the agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“Crime and killings in Chicago have reached such epidemic proportions that I am sending in Federal help,” he tweeted Friday morning.
Trump said there have been “1714 shootings in Chicago this year!” but the number is actually higher, according to data kept by the Tribune. As of Friday morning, the number of people shot in Chicago was at least 1,760, still lower than this time last year, when violence reached levels not seen in two decades.
In January, Trump tweeted, “If Chicago doesn’t fix the horrible ‘carnage’ going on, … I will send in the Feds!”
At a news briefing Friday in Washington, D.C., reporters asked Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders whether Chicago’s crime problem was related to gun access.
“I think that the problem there is pretty clear that it’s a crime problem. I think crime is probably driven more by morality than anything else,” she said. “So I think that this is a law enforcement issue and our focus is trying to add additional support.”
The roughly 40-person strike force, which consists of Chicago police officers, ATF agents and Illinois State Police, will be working on unsolved shootings and gun-related homicides and combating illegal gun trafficking, officials said Friday.
“It is a battle which can only be fought with all hands on deck, that is, state, federal and local law enforcement,” Joel Levin, Chicago’s acting U.S. Attorney, told reporters at a Friday afternoon news conference at Chicago police headquarters.
This isn’t the first time task forces have been formed to combat gun violence in Chicago.
For example, ATF agents worked in the past with Chicago police officers in the South Chicago District, which borders northwest Indiana, to try to counter the flow of illegal firearms from that state. ATF statistics have shown that most of the guns originating from outside of Cook County that were recovered at Chicago crime scenes in past years came from Indiana.
Tim Jones, who heads the ATF task force, told reporters that 20 new agents will be working on it. That’s in addition to 41 ATF agents who were already working in Chicago.
“We are a small agency, have a small footprint but we like to cast a bigger shadow through our attitude and effort, and we’re here to help, so we’re going to do what we can to work with our partners,” Jones said.
When asked by a reporter if 20 additional agents is enough, given the scope of Chicago’s illegal gun problem, Jones replied, “Me personally, we could probably use 500 more agents. We just don’t have (those resources).”
One of the things the task force will be doing is examining bullet casings recovered from crime scenes in order to perform expedited ballistics testing and determine whether the casings came from the same guns used in other crimes.
These casings will be tested in a mobile van provided by ATF agents who will perform the tests through its National Integrated Ballistic Information Network. This way, Chicago police will be able to determine within hours — instead of days with the department’s in-house lab — whether the casings came from guns used at other crime scenes.
Anthony Riccio, chief of the Chicago police’s Bureau of Organized Crime, said the ATF’s ballistics technology not only could help the department work more quickly, but also could help them link guns to solve more crimes.
“While officers probably will still be working on the arrest report for this individual, we’ll know the history of that gun. We’ll know if it’s been involved in any other shootings. We’ll know where it’s been used,” he said. “And that’s a great lead for detectives because now they’ve got the guy and the gun that have been used in shootings that before would’ve taken us days to find out.”
Chicago police First Deputy Superintendent Kevin Navarro said the department had been working on arrangements to receive more assistance from federal law enforcement since November, during former President Barack Obama’s administration. Those efforts continued under Trump
According to a release from the office of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the task force became operational June 1.
“The Trump Administration will not let the bloodshed go on; we cannot accept these levels of violence,” the release quoted Sessions as saying. “That’s why, under President Trump’s strong leadership, we have created the Chicago Gun Strike Force and are sending 20 more permanent ATF agents to Chicago, reallocating federal prosecutors and prioritizing prosecutions to reduce gun violence, and working with our law enforcement partners to stop the lawlessness.”
Sessions went on to criticize the city of Chicago’s status as a “sanctuary city,” which gives certain legal protections to immigrants without legal status in Chicago, saying the policies “tie the hands of law enforcement.” He then praised Celinez Nunez, the new Special Agent in Charge of the Chicago office of ATF, saying the agent “has experienced the tragic consequences of gang violence firsthand,” and would make the city safer.
The task force will work with the Chicago police department’s Organized Crime Bureau and the ATF’s Chicago field office, Chicago police said.
Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said in the CPD news release that the task force “will significantly help our police officers stem the flow of illegal guns and create a culture of accountability for the small subset of individuals and gangs who (disproportionately) drive violence in our city.”
Tribune Washington bureau reporter Noah Bierman and WGN-TV contributed.
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