Durbin, Dart push police departments to use federal gun tracing program

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Last year, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives noticed an unusual number of guns, at least 30, used in crimes in Chicago — and analyzed through ATF’s gun tracing system eTrace — were all purchased in Marion, Ohio.

An investigation uncovered a gun-trafficking ring in the Ohio town that was running guns to Chicago in exchange for heroin, leading to federal indictments against nine people to date in that case.

The case and many others have proved the federal program long offered free to local law enforcement agencies is a powerful tool in fighting gun trafficking and gun violence, yet too many agencies fail to utilize it, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said at a news conference here on Monday.

Durbin, who has been pushing the eTrace program for nearly a decade, announced he is introducing new legislation offering the nation’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies incentive to report all recovered crime guns to ATF for tracing.

“Back in 2006, 150 out of the 800 police departments and sheriff’s offices in our state were tracing their guns through this system. So I wrote letters to all of them, saying, ‘Let’s get on board. It doesn’t cost you anything. We’re going to solve some crimes’,” said Durbin, speaking at the Daley Center offices of Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

“Two years ago, when Sheriff Dart and I last talked about this issue, there were 392 agencies in Illinois signed up for eTrace, pretty good, but still room for improvement,” he said. “Today, 451 Illinois agencies are signed up. We know that this works. Every law enforcement agency in Illinois that hasn’t signed up for eTrace needs to do it.”

The Crime Gun Tracing Act would place preference for Community Oriented Policing Services grants awarded through the U.S. Department of Justice to local agencies that can specify how many crime guns they recovered, how many of those guns they submitted to ATF for tracing, and reasons for not submitting any recovered guns.

A first-of-its-kind training initiative, sponsored jointly by Dart’s office, the Joyce Foundation and the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), is scheduled for June 30 to familiarize more police agencies in Cook County with eTrace technology and its associated tools.

“Sen. Durbin has used every arrow in his quiver to try to push people into this. Now we’re trying a training element. We’re going to work with law enforcement agencies and teach them how easy this is to do,” said Dart, long a staunch advocate of eTrace.

“The technology involved is very straightforward. There’s no excuse for this. This isn’t pro-gun or anti-gun. It’s just being smart,” said Dart. “It is beyond anyone’s understanding what department would not want to be involved with this, because the eTracing is one element of it, but the ballistic side too is so huge.”

How eTrace works is when law enforcement agencies recover a gun used in a crime, they submit information on the gun’s manufacturer, model and serial number to the National Tracing Center; ATF traces the chain of custody of the gun from manufacturer to first legal purchaser; the traces can generate leads in unsolved crimes and intelligence on gun crime trends and gun-trafficking patterns.

ATF’s eTrace provides a searchable database that local police agencies can use to analyze all gun traces and gun crimes in their jurisdiction; allows agencies to opt into “Collective Data Sharing,” to share traces with other local agencies in state; and ATF can also trace bullets. Through its National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, the marks left on bullet casings can be matched to particular guns.

It’s through eTrace that it was gleaned 60 percent of crime guns recovered in Chicago between 2009 and 2013 were from out of state; and that the main sources for guns flowing into Chicago were Indiana, 19 percent; Mississippi, 6.7 percent; and Wisconsin, 3.6 percent.

Illinois currently has the most policing agencies signed up with eTrace, recently surpassing Texas and Ohio. Durbin believes all 800 agencies statewide should be using the system. Last year, Illinois law enforcement traced over 11,500 crime guns, and has traced more than 6,000 thus far this year.

“It’s such an invaluable investigative tool,” said Robbins Police Chief Mitchell Davis. “We recently had an incident where we recovered a gun, did eTrace on it, and we came back with a hit out of Cincinnati. This gun was taken in a burglary there. We were able to turn the information over to Ohio authorities. By giving them information that ‘Hey, this gun is now in Robbins. How did it end up getting here?’ Well, you know what? The guy we stopped had an I.D. from Robbins. We could possibly help solve a crime that took place somewhere else.”

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