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News / Nation & World

Justice Department ramps up efforts to reduce violent crime with gun intel center, carjacking forces

By ALANNA DURKIN RICHER, Associated Press
Published: April 18, 2024, 1:30pm

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is ramping up its efforts to reduce violent crime in the U.S., launching a specialized gun intelligence center in Chicago and expanding task forces to curb carjackings.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said there is “absolutely much more to do” to make communities safer, even as many places have experienced a downward trend in crime after a coronavirus pandemic-era spike.

“No level of violence is acceptable,” Monaco said during a trip to Chicago this week. “We are seeing progress, but we’re far from done. We have to double down on the strategies that work, by bringing federal resources to act as force multipliers.”

The initiatives are part of a broad effort by President Joe Biden’s administration to address violent crime — an issue the Democratic president has featured in his reelection campaign to reach young voters concerned about gun violence. Republicans have seized on violence in some American cities, including the nation’s capital, to try to paint Democrats as weak on crime.

Local Angle

U.S. Attorney Tessa M. Gorman announced Thursday that the Western District of Washington is one of seven districts that are adding a carjacking task force to focus efforts and resources on this important public safety threat. “Our task force harnesses the resources of the FBI, ATF, the Seattle Police and Kent Police departments. Prosecutors will look at all carjacking incidents in the district to see if federal prosecution is appropriate,” said Gorman. “Where adults are using juveniles to commit these crimes, we will explore significant federal penalties to hold the adults accountable.” Added Richard A. Collodi, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Seattle field office, “Addressing violent crime is a task that takes teamwork. I am proud to join with our law enforcement partners in the Seattle area to protect the communities we all call home.”

 

Last week, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives announced it had finalized a new rule requiring thousands more firearms dealers to run background checks on buyers at gun shows or other places outside brick-and-mortar stores. Gun rights groups are expected to mount legal challenges.

In Chicago, the gun crime intelligence center at the city’s ATF office brings together federal agents and state and local police as well as federal and local prosecutors to share and analyze firearm intelligence to better identify traffickers and the most prolific shooters, officials said.

It’s modeled after dozens of similar centers run by the ATF across the country. The Chicago center will house 65 agents, officers, analysts and prosecutors.

“The goal is to catch more violent people, truly violent. And, second, to do a better job at seeing if we can prevent them from getting armed in the first place,” ATF Director Steve Dettelbach said in an interview. “The first days and hours after an incident are crucial to the investigation, and being able to have everybody together, looking at that data every single day and making decisions, is a real game changer.”

Chicago is one of the nation’s gun violence hotspots, even as police data shows shootings and killings declined there last year. The announcement comes days after a young girl was killed and 10 other people were wounded in a shooting police believe was gang-related on the city’s South Side.

“Every innocent life lost to gun violence is one too many,” Monaco said. “And every shooter evading justice is one too many.”

Recently released FBI data based on numbers sent from about 80% of U.S. law enforcement agencies shows murders overall dropped 13% and violent crime overall was down 6% in the last three months of 2023 compared with the same period the year before. Final detailed data for 2023 is expected to be released in the fall.

Amid a scourge of carjackings nationwide, the Justice Department has also created task forces to combat the issue in seven more U.S. attorney’s offices, including the Eastern District of Texas, the Northern District of Alabama and the Northern District of California. The task forces, which are now in 11 offices, include federal prosecutors, ATF and FBI agents and state and local law enforcement.

The goal is to get federal officials involved at the beginning of carjacking investigations — even if the cases ended up being prosecuted locally — to help with duties like tracing firearms, performing forensics analyses or getting search warrants and subpoenas.

Follow the AP’s coverage of the U.S. Department of Justice at https://apnews.com/hub/us-department-of-justice.

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