CHICAGO, Illinois—On the heels of the bloodiest spate of violence in this city all year, Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Thursday that a cadre of seven additional Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agents would be deployed to the Chicago field office.
The move to beef up the city’s crime fighting power comes just weeks after at least 82 people were shot and 16 killed over the long Fourth of July weekend, and amid mounting pressure on city, state and federal officials to tamp down Chicago’s rampant gun violence.
“The Department of Justice will continue to do everything in its power to help the city of Chicago combat gun violence,” Holder said in a statement announcing the deployment of the agents. “These new agents are a sign of the federal government’s ongoing commitment to helping local leaders ensure Chicago’s streets are safe.”
Despite an overall dip in crime from last year, bloodshed in many of the city’s poorest neighborhoods continues to be relentless. While murders are down 6% from last year, shootings are up 5%, concentrated in just a handful of communities mostly on the city’s west and south sides, according to police.
Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy has said that getting control of shooting incidents is critical to the department’s efforts. McCarthy told msnbc earlier this year that a new surge of officers in the most gun-weary neighborhoods and bolstered intelligence and community relations were showing signs of success in the department’s efforts to slow the bloodletting.
Yet, the drumbeat of gun violence has continued unabated.
The new agents announced today will bring the total number currently assigned to Chicago to 52. The move is just the latest from outside of the Chicago Police Department to address violent crime concerns.
In June, the ATF opened the Chicago Crime Gun Intelligence Center, which pools the resources and efforts of city and state police, as well as the ATF to target illegal gun sales and trafficking across the state. According to officials, about 60% of the illegal weapons used in crimes in Chicago originate from out of state, while the remaining flow comes from neighboring counties where gun laws are more lax than the city’s. And the FBI currently has more than 100 agents on the ground focused on gang and violent crimes.
Earlier this year, after a particularly bloody Easter weekend in which nine people were killed and at least 35 were wounded, including six children, the U.S. Attorney’s Office formed a specialized new unit staffed by more than a dozen prosecutors tasked with using federal law to bring heftier prosecution of gun traffickers and those whom they supply.
The new ATF agents assigned to the city will work in a similar manner.
The agents will concentrate on identifying traffickers and enforcing gun laws, while trying to stem the supply of illegal guns that “end up in the hands of gang members and other violent criminals,” the DOJ statement reads.
“ATF’s commitment to targeting traffickers and trigger pullers in Chicago is bolstered by these additional resources,” ATF Director B. Todd Jones said in a statement. “These resources, combined with ATF’s Crime Gun Intelligence Center, will strengthen and build on our outstanding partnership with the Chicago Police Department and other local, state and regional law enforcement to bring safety and justice back to the community.”
“We have enjoyed an ever-improving and increasingly productive relationship with our federal partners,” Superintendent McCarthy said. “We look forward to continuing that relationship and welcoming additional personnel in our ongoing efforts to ensure everyone in Chicago enjoys the same sense of safety.”
The focus on gangs has long been a priority for police in Chicago, where a long history of gang involvement has made the city one of the nation’s epicenters of gang activity. Over the past decade, federal prosecutors and police have dismantled many of the city’s most powerful gangs by putting many of their leaders behind bars for long prison terms under various mandatory minimum sentences. Yet police say gangs remain the source of much of the city’s gun violence.
Many in the communities hit hardest by gun violence counter those claims, saying that old-school gangs like the notorious Gangster Disciples are no longer relevant and instead neighborhood cliques with young leaders who lack the discipline of earlier iterations of the gangs are shooting willy-nilly and with impunity.
“It ain’t like it used to be,” a longtime resident of the far south side Rosedale neighborhood, also known as the Wild 100s, told msnbc on Wednesday. “Nobody can control them. They don’t listen to nobody, just out here shooting. Back in the day you had to get permission to go after somebody. It’s not like that now, they shoot first.”