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A shift by cities to ‘taskforce’ crime-fighting won’t work alone

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Embattled cities like Baltimore and Chicago police are publicizing “new initiatives” to try and address steadily rising street violence in their cities following tweets by President Donald Trump says is at “epidemic proportions.”

Trump’s remarks on Twitter come in the same time frame that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) deployed a new mobile gun-tracing lab in Baltimore designed to trace ballistic evidence faster.

Simultaneously, the Chicago police announced the formation of the Chicago Crime Gun Strike Force with ATF, who’ve assigned an additional 20 ATF agents to the second city.

{mosads}These “new” task forces utilize a combination of city police, state troopers, federal agents, fusion center intelligence analysts and a combination of state and federal prosecutors to target illegal guns and repeat gun offenders.


The public highlighting of these types of initiatives represents a departure from the historical talking points of mayors Rahm Emmanuel, Catherine Pugh and other big-city leaders like Bill DeBlasio and Jim Kenney; in seeking increased enforcement initiatives on violent crime through firearms enforcement in lieu of public statements regarding the need for more legislation on legal firearms.

While this shift may be a political response to Trump’s latest tweets highlighting the over 1,700 shootings in Chicago this year, these “new” remedies are far from revolutionary from the standpoint of a law enforcement practitioner.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, on an appearance on the “Fox & Friends” morning show, said the Justice Department is “sending in additional gun investigators” to Chicago and that he has urged the U.S. attorney’s office to prosecute gun cases aggressively; adding “The police have been demoralized in many ways,” he said. “In many ways, the policies in Chicago have not been working. Murders are way, way too high. It is critical for the people of Chicago’s public safety that we begin to work together here and deport violent criminals that have been convicted. They need to not be a sanctuary city, they need to be protecting the people of Chicago from violent criminals.”

However, these “task force” concepts are a throwback, largely to the last time murder rates soared to these types of proportions; during the “Crack Explosion” era of the late 1980s and early-to-mid 1990s when the President created the Office of National Drug Control Policy which created interagency High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) in major metropolitan areas throughout the nation.

Even after the “crack explosion” era violence started to wane, Firearms Suppression (or “Triggerlock”) units were created in the 2000s to cross-designate local detectives and prosecutors to enforce federal firearms charges for offenders caught with illegal guns in the street.

Sadly, many of these units simply dwindled away as the ranks of the ATF slowly attritioned down during the Obama Administration, in addition to less funding for local agencies.

In Philadelphia, when the mayoral Administrations of both Michael Nutter and Jim Kenney blamed their abnormally high violent crime rates on the state house in Harrisburg for blocking them from creating municipal gun laws that conflicted with statewide gun laws; such a unit ceased to exist when District Attorney Seth Williams stopped assigning cross-designated prosecutors to enforce federal firearms crimes (such as National Firearms Act) for gun offenders caught by local police.

The reinstatement of these initiatives are a current campaign promise of Beth Grossman (R), who is running against Larry Krasner (D), counsel to Black Lives Matter and the Occupy Movement; who are looking to fill the seat vacated by DA Seth Williams (D), who plead guilty on June 29th to a 29-count federal corruption indictment.

Still, despite the fact that combining federal and local law enforcement resources and technologies to combat violent street crime has been a tactic used for over 30+ years; Chicago Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi stated recently that “federal and Cook County prosecutors plan to develop new strategies to prosecute gun crimes and offenders.” and Attorney General Sessions last week pledged federal assistance to 12 cities to help them develop individualized, long-term strategies to fight violence.

The difference between this recent reintroduction of these “new policing initiatives” to when they were introduced in the late ‘80s is two very important missing links. These links are the citing of behavioral contributors and the ability to deploy aggressive policing strategies to get the streets under control.

Simply deploying new technologies like “Shot Spotter” to detect gunshot locations and ATF ballistic vans doesn’t get to the root cause of why people are shooting each other en masse. Local political, religious and community leaders must work to identify what behaviors are acceptable and collectively reject the increasingly common behaviors in the community that the law deems anti-social.

This will help to better determine ways to keep people from entering a life of crime in the first place. At the same time, aggressive law enforcement strategies must be re-introduced to create a deterrent effect on the streets.

It was the combination of these strategies that helped former Mayor Rudy Giuliani realize a historical drop in crime during his first mayoral term in New York, which has been duplicated nationwide; most recently by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).

While mayor of Newark, NJ, Booker bolstered community relations and school initiatives to prevent crime while simultaneously bringing in Gerry McCarthy from the NYPD to make the Newark Police a more efficient, effective crime-fighting force. However, when recent political sentiment somehow started to blame law enforcement for the culture of crime and violence plaguing many high-crime communities; the fear of encountering the criminal justice system disappeared.

Even Gerry McCarthy was rendered ineffective when he was brought from Newark to Chicago, and Rahm Emmanuel’s administration stopped him from using the very tactics proven legal and effective when used in New York and Newark were not allowed because of political optics in Chicago.

This unfortunate trend is ringing true in many large American cities, and it is mirrored by their rising violent crime rates.

Therefore, while task forces and law enforcement technologies are valuable and necessary in preventing violent crime; they should be supported by a community effort to stem the growth of criminal behaviors before they result in the need to process a crime scene.

Benjamin Mannes is a regular contributor to The Hill and is a national subject matter expert in public safety. Mannes is an Executive Board Member of InfraGard, the FBI-coordinated partnership for infrastructure protection and the host of “The 3rd Side of the Story” show on Wildfire Radio. Mannes is on Twitter @PublicSafetySME.  

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.



Tags Baltimore Bill de Blasio Chicago cities Crime Donald Trump Jeff Sessions New York Rahm Emanuel

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