CHICAGO – 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 Chicago 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!”
The roughly 40-person strike force, which consists of Chicago police officers, ATF agents and Illinois State Police, will work on unsolved shootings and combating illegal gun trafficking.
“It is a battle which can only be fought with all hands on deck, that is, state, federal and local law enforcement,” said Joel Levin, Chicago’s acting U.S. attorney.
This isn’t the first time task forces have been formed to combat gun violence in Chicago. ATF agents have worked with Chicago police officers in the South Chicago District, which borders Indiana, to try to counter the flow of illegal firearms from that state.
“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,” said Tim Jones, who will head the ATF task force. Asked 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 task force priority will be examining bullet casings recovered from crime scenes in order to perform expedited ballistics testing.
The casings will be tested in a mobile van provided by ATF agents who will perform the checks through its National Integrated Ballistic Information Network. 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.
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.
“The Trump administration will not let the bloodshed go on; we cannot accept these levels of violence,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said. “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.”
The task force will work with the Chicago Police Department’s Organized Crime Bureau.