Indiana Northern District part of Chicago-area gun trafficking strike force

The Northern District of Indiana is set to participate in a cross-jurisdictional strike force created to curb gun violence and break up illegal firearms trafficking across the country.

The U.S. Department of Justice last week launched cross-jurisdictional strike forces in five cities to help reduce spiking gun violence by disrupting illegal firearms trafficking in key regions across the nation. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the strike forces would be established in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

The effort includes stepped-up enforcement in “supply areas” — cities and states where it’s easier to obtain firearms that are later trafficked into other cities with more restrictive gun laws. Updated data, evidence and intelligence from crime scenes will be used to identify patterns, leads and potential suspects in violent gun crimes, the department said.

Gun trace data revealed that a number of firearms recovered in Chicago originate from Indiana, as well as other locations surrounding the Windy City. The DOJ said the strike force will help ensure sustained and focused coordination between law enforcement and prosecutors in Chicago with their counterparts in other locations, including the Hoosier State.

“All too often, guns found at crime scenes come from hundreds or even thousands of miles away. We are redoubling our efforts as (the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives) works with law enforcement to track the movement of illegal firearms used in violent crimes,” Garland said in a DOJ news release. “These strike forces enable sustained coordination across multiple jurisdictions to help disrupt the worst gun trafficking corridors. The Department of Justice will use all of its tools — enforcement, prevention, intervention, and investment — to help ensure the safety of our communities — the department’s highest priority.”

The department said the 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.

In addition to prioritizing gun crimes, the strike forces will embrace intelligence sharing and prosecutions across jurisdictions, Justice Department officials said. Authorities have also embedded federal agents in homicide units of police departments across the U.S., have been deploying additional crime analysts and are conducting fugitive sweeps to arrest people who have outstanding state and federal warrants for violent crimes.

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 new initiative is not sending agents or prosecutors into cities with crime spikes, differentiating it from other initiatives.

Justice officials say the strike forces are targeted prosecutions meant to be a longer-term effort to combat gun trafficking. Strike force regions will be led by designated United States attorneys, who will collaborate with ATF and with state and local law enforcement partners within their own jurisdiction and in areas where illegally trafficked guns originate.

There’s currently 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.

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.

A similar initiative was launched in 2017 with Chicago police, federal agents and prosecutors, called the Chicago Crime Gun Strike Force. That initiative tried to stem the flow of illegal firearms in the city and curb rampant gun violence.

The strike forces represent a step in implementing the department’s Violent Crime Reduction Strategy, announced in May 2021.

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