Attorney General Merrick Garland is initiating federal strike forces in five U.S. cities, including Chicago and New York, in an effort to curb a surge in gun violence, the Associated Press reported. The action will target issues such as unlawful trafficking and help prosecute crimes that allow criminals to obtain guns.
Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. are also included in the initiative. The forces will strengthen gun law enforcement in cities and states where guns can be procured easier and then illegally trafficked into cities where they’re harder to obtain.
Additionally, they will prioritize the sharing of information between jurisdictions and prosecutions, according to officials from the Department of Justice. Federal agents were sent to homicide units around the country, while authorities are deploying more crime analysts and looking to arrest people with state and federal warrants for violent crimes.
For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.
Violent crimes, particularly homicides and shootings, are up in many cities around the country, and the Biden administration has sought to aid communities hamstrung by violence. But the initiative launched this week differs from other recent federal efforts to address violence, because it is not sending agents or prosecutors into cities with crime spikes. Justice officials say the strike forces are targeted prosecutions meant to be a longer-term effort to combat gun trafficking.
There is no federal gun trafficking law, so federal agents often must rely on other statutes, like lying on a firearms purchase form, to prosecute gun trafficking cases or stop straw purchasers, people who buy weapons legally to then provide them to others who can’t legally have them.
Officials hope the new plan will mean federal prosecutors in some of the supply cities will be more likely to bring charges in those cases.
But if the effort sounds familiar, it is. In 2017, Chicago police, federal agents and prosecutors launched a similar initiative—the Chicago Crime Gun Strike Force—to try to stem the flow of illegal firearms in the city and curb rampant gun violence.
The Justice Department said that strike force was formed in response to a surge in firearm violence and its work is continuing, but it has been focused locally in Chicago on reducing violence and not on gun trafficking from other jurisdictions that put the guns in the hands of criminals. That’s been the case with similar gun task forces, too, including in New York.
“These previous approaches generally surged resources to specific areas, without a sustained focus on cross-jurisdictional trafficking,” the department said. “Now we are formalizing and standardizing coordination between districts. This strategy is focused on trafficking—keeping firearms out of the hands of those who will pull the trigger.”
Police statistics released earlier this month showed that fewer killings were reported over the first six months of 2021 in Chicago compared with the same period last year, but the number of shootings and people shot increased.
While crime is rising in many U.S. cities, violent crime overall remains lower than it was a decade ago or even five years ago.
Experts say this year’s spike in crime defies easy explanation and point to a number of potential causes, including the coronavirus pandemic, worries about the economy and large gatherings after months of stay-at-home orders.