CHICAGO — The Chicago Police Department is teaming up with federal and local law enforcement agencies in a new effort to curb gun violence and stop the flow of illegal guns to the streets of Chicago.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives announced Thursday the opening of the Crime Gun Intelligence Center, which will pool personnel and information from a number of agency databases to target criminals more quickly.
The center is a partnership between the ATF, Chicago Police, the FBI and other local law enforcement organizations, including those from Northwest Indiana.
Carl Vasilko, who heads the ATF's Chicago office, said the center is one of several strategies the bureau has been refining over the past several months to target gun traffickers and violent criminals.
"In a nutshell, the core mission of the crime center is to identify these shooters...and the traffickers that sell them guns and get them off our streets," Vasilko said.
The majority of guns used in Chicago crimes are local, with roughly 40 percent coming from Illinois and 20 percent coming from Indiana, Vasilko said. Many of the guns make their way to the street through traffickers or a "straw purchaser," someone who legally buy a gun for someone who cannot.
"Traffickers and straw purchasers are the faceless criminals that profit from putting guns into the hands of these most violent offenders," Vasilko said.
The center, which is funded by money from the ATF and CPD's general budgets, will ideally give investigators a more complete picture of gun crimes by providing information from a number of databases in real time.
Through systems like the ATF's National Integrated Ballistics Information Network, police and federal agents can match shell casings found at a crime scene with "thousands upon thousands" of other shell casings to find other crimes where the same gun was used. Then investigators can combine evidence, like suspect descriptions and known associates of a shooter, to help solve cases.
"It's going to provide you a tremendous amount of investigative leads you wouldn't have had," Vasilko said.
For a city like Chicago that recovers more guns per capita than New York or Los Angeles, getting guns off the street is key to preventing violence and a "top priority" for police, said CPD Deputy Superintendent Alfonza Wysinger.
"Until we stop the flow of these illegal handguns, we're going to face an uphill battle, and that's one of the best aspects of this center," Wysinger said. "It will help us not only target violent criminal activity but also focus on disrupting illegal firearm trafficking."
U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon, who attended a press conference announcing the center Thursday, offered a succinct opinion.
"This is cool stuff," Fardon said. "[It] is a smart and sophisticated way of using cutting edge science and technology to solve more violent crimes and to solve them more quickly."
The center will be staffed by ATF agents and CPD officers, as well as FBI analysts and members of the Firearms Trafficking Task Force, which involves the Cook County Sheriff's Office and Illinois State Police.
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