B. Todd Jones, Acting Director, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
he Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) is committed to working with our international, federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement partners to investigate and prevent violent crime in the United States. We are proud of the strong relationships we have developed with law enforcement agencies throughout the United States and around the world. Since I took on the role of acting director in August 2011, I have been working to strengthen these relationships and ensure that the ATF is proactive and impactful in its role as the violent crime bureau.
The federal firearms laws possess some of the strongest tools to combat the most violent criminals. Since the ATF joined the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2003, our approximately 2,400 special agents have forwarded criminal cases involving more than 18,500 defendants to their respective U.S. and states attorneys’ offices for prosecution each year. As the ATF Acting Director—and as the U.S. attorney for the district of Minnesota—I can tell you that the ATF specializes in making cases against the most violent individuals in the country. Of the defendants referred for criminal prosecution in recent years, about 65 percent have prior felony convictions and 85 percent have prior criminal histories.
Recently in my office in Saint Paul, Minnesota, a 19-year-old man was sentenced in connection with the February 23, 2011, armed robbery of a liquor store in the Minneapolis area. He received 120 months in prison on one count of use of a firearm during a crime of violence, specifically during a Hobbs Act robbery and was a suspect in several other convenience store armed robberies. The Hobbs Act, passed by Congress in 1946, allows federal prosecutors to prosecute individuals who commit armed robbery in places of business that participate in interstate commerce. Federal prosecution of these cases can be beneficial, since the penalties are often tougher than under state law. Furthermore, because the federal system has no parole, those who receive federal sentences serve virtually the entire time imposed.
The ATF has also had great success in dismantling violent gangs. In late 2011, the last of 19 defendants was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise in connection with his gang activities as leader of the Maryland tribe of the Latin Kings.
The combined efforts and expertise of ATF special agents; industry operations investigators; and other personnel in firearms, explosives, arson, tobacco, and alcohol diversion laws enable us to fulfill our missions and work effectively with our law enforcement partners to achieve our mutual goal of reducing crime—especially violent crime. The ATF also has many resources in its areas of expertise that can help other law enforcement agencies, some of which are described below.
The tracing and the analysis of all crime guns assist federal and local law enforcement in criminal investigations, provide ATF firearms trafficking groups with a picture of the local illicit firearms market, and fuel ATF field intelligence groups with information related to firearms trafficking patterns. To that end, a new ATF initiative at several state fusion centers—the iTrafficking Pilot Program—is designed to support the ATF’s national firearms trafficking enforcement strategy.
The goal of the iTrafficking program is to ensure complete tracing of crime guns and to implement a regional approach to firearms trafficking investigations through partnerships with state fusion centers in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland. These selected states are often the recipient states of firearms in the so-called “iron pipeline.”
In furtherance of the iTrafficking Pilot Program, on October 1, 2010, the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Assistance awarded a $250,000 grant to the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) to research and examine the integration of criminal firearms information into state fusion centers. The IACP research focuses on documenting promising practices by iTrafficking personnel working in five state fusion centers along the I-95 northeast corridor in the examination of firearms trace data. It also focuses on developing an education and an awareness program for law enforcement’s promotion of crime gun data analysis to prevent and solve firearms crime.
The IACP Firearms Committee, IACP staff, and the IACP fellow from ATF are working together on this project. The ATF is appreciative of its partnership with the IACP over the years and is enthusiastic about working with the IACP on this initiative to more effectively trace firearms used in crimes and to prevent and solve firearms-related crime.
National Tracing Center
The ATF’s National Tracing Center (NTC) assists domestic and international law enforcement agencies by tracing the origin of firearms that have been recovered in criminal investigations. The NTC is the United States’ only crime gun–tracing facility. As such, the NTC provides critical information that helps domestic and international law enforcement agencies solve firearms crimes; detect firearms trafficking; and track the intrastate, interstate, and international movement of crime guns. The ATF’s web-based firearms tracing system, called eTrace, is available to accredited domestic and international law enforcement agencies to assist in tracing U.S.-sourced firearms. eTrace is a paperless firearms trace request submission system and an interactive firearms trace analysis tool that provides an electronic exchange of crime gun incident-based data in a secure web-based environment. Through eTrace, law enforcement agencies can electronically submit firearms trace requests, monitor the progress of traces, retrieve completed trace results, and query firearms trace-related data. eTrace includes analytical and download capabilities for the ATF’s firearms trace information, including selective field searches and statistical reporting.
National Integrated Ballistics Information Network
In 1999, the ATF established and began administration of the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN). In this program, the ATF administers automated ballistic imaging technology for NIBIN partners: federal, state, and local law enforcement; forensic science agencies; and agencies in the United States that have entered into a formal agreement with the ATF to enter ballistic information into NIBIN. Partners use NIBIN to acquire digital images of the markings made on fired ammunition components recovered from a crime scene or a crime gun test fire and then compare those images—in a matter of hours—against earlier NIBIN entries via electronic image comparison. If a high-confidence candidate for a match emerges, firearms examiners compare the original evidence with a microscope to confirm the match or NIBIN “hit.” A hit is a linkage of two different crime scene investigations by NIBIN participants where previously there had been no known connection between the investigations. It is a linkage between cases, not individual pieces of evidence. Multiple casings or bullets may be entered as part of the same case record. In this event, each discovered linkage to an additional case constitutes a hit. The partner that confirms the hit in NIBIN is credited with discovering it.
This valuable, crime-linking ballistics tool is connecting suspects with shootings—and solving crimes—every day. By searching in an automated environment either locally, regionally, or nationally, NIBIN partners are able to discover links between firearms-related violent crimes more quickly, including links that likely would not have been identified absent the technology. As of November 2011, more than 45,000 links have been made by NIBIN partners.
U.S. Bomb Data Center
The ATF also oversees the U.S. Bomb Data Center (USBDC). The USBDC was established by congressional mandate in 1996 as a national collection center for information on arson and explosives–related incidents throughout the United States. The USBDC databases incorporate information from various sources such as the ATF, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the U.S. Fire Administration. Information maintained by the USBDC is available for statistical analysis and investigative research by scholars and the law enforcement community. The USBDC provides arson and explosives statistics utilizing all available sources of information to the ATF; other federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement and fire service agencies; and the public. Similar to the ATF’s NTC for firearms, the USBDC can trace commercial and military explosives to determine their origins.
National Response Team
The ATF National Response Team (NRT) was created to assist state, local, and tribal investigators in meeting the challenges of large-scale arson and explosives incidents. The NRT will respond anywhere in the United States within 24 hours to help state and local investigators determine the origin and cause of fires and bombings and assist in interviews and areas of the investigations. The ATF has activated the NRT more than 700 times since its inception in 1978.
The NRT comprises veteran special agents with postblast and fire origin-and-cause expertise; forensic chemists; fire protection engineers; accelerant or explosives detection canines; and other personnel. The NRT and state and local investigators work together to reconstruct the scene, identify the seat of the blast or origin of the fire, and determine the cause. In the case of bombings and arson fires, NRT members gather evidence to support criminal prosecutions.
NRT activations include
- the World Trade Center bombing in New York City, New York, in 1993;
- the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, bombing in 1995;
- the Atlanta, Georgia, Olympics bombing in 1996;
- the Otherside Lounge bombing in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1997;
- the Birmingham, Alabama, abortion clinic bombing in 1998;
- the terrorist attack on the Pentagon in 2001;
- the rural Alabama church arsons in 2006; and
- the recent string of arsons in Los Angeles, California, in January 2012.
We at the ATF are proud of our reputation of working collaboratively with our international, federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement partners during the last 40 years. As acting director, I look forward to working with IACP and all of you to build and sustain these partnerships in the future. ♦
Please cite as:
B. Todd Jones, "ATF: Combating Violent Crime," From the Acting Director, The Police Chief 79 (September 2012): 18–19.