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Law Enforcement Agencies Nationwide Are Underutilizing Federal Tools For Solving Gun Crimes, New Study Finds

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 9, 2024
Media Contact: Sabrina Miller, [email protected]

Law Enforcement Agencies Nationwide Are Underutilizing Federal Tools For Solving Gun Crimes, New Study Finds

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin Urges Law Enforcement, Congress to use crime gun intelligence tools to fight gun violence

CHICAGO, IL - About half of all law enforcement agencies nationwide don’t use federal crime gun intelligence tools that can identify major gun traffickers, increase clearance rates for gun crimes, reduce bias in policing and save lives, according to a new study released today by The Joyce Foundation.

Optimizing Crime Gun Intelligence found that low law enforcement participation rates, slow processing times by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which oversees the tools, and barriers created by Congress are all factors preventing these resources from being fully utilized. More participation is encouraged by law enforcement as part of a multifaceted approach to reducing gun crimes, which are particularly difficult to solve, the study says.

The ATF’s four main crime gun intelligence tools – eTrace, Collective Data Sharing (CDS), the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN), and the NIBIN Enforcement Support System (NESS) – allow law enforcement to analyze crime guns, shell casings, and police records. But only 55 percent of law enforcement agencies nationwide are signed up to participate in eTrace. Of the agencies enrolled in eTrace, only 32 percent share gun trace data across agencies via CDS — meaning the vast majority of crime gun-related data never leaves the police department from which it was collected. Less than 2 percent of law enforcement agencies participate in NESS.

The new findings are especially relevant as just 46 percent of all firearm homicides are solved – or “cleared” – each year, compared to a 75 percent clearance rate for murders committed with other weapons, and clearance rates in Black and Latino communities are even worse. The findings also have significant implications for new laws designed to increase accountability for serious gun crimes. Notably, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) made gun trafficking and straw purchasing federal crimes for the first time. But if gun crimes are not cleared – if shooters and traffickers are not identified using ATF’s tools – these new criminal provisions can’t actually be used.

“As gun violence continues to devastate communities across the country, it’s unacceptable for law enforcement agencies, Congress, and the ATF to leave resources on the table that can help save lives,” said Tim Daly, Director of the Joyce Foundation’s Gun Violence Prevention & Justice Reform Program. “Significant changes to ATF’s ‘crime gun intelligence tools’ are needed to lower processing times, increase ease of use, and ensure crime guns are traced and gun traffickers are identified. And more law enforcement partners at the state and local level need to take advantage of these important tools that we know work in a fair and just way.”

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and an outspoken advocate for gun violence prevention and criminal justice reform, agreed, urging law enforcement and his colleagues to do more.

“The federal crime gun intelligence tools law enforcement agencies have at their disposal are critical to our country’s work to address gun violence,” Sen. Durbin said. “We’ve made significant progress in recent years to reduce gun violence, but every level of government — from local law enforcement agencies, to the ATF, to my colleagues in Congress — must do more to ensure these tools are fully utilized to solve gun crimes and save lives.”

Other key findings include:

  • Lack of participation by law enforcement: In 23 states, less than 50 percent of law enforcement agencies participate in eTrace, and in 47 states, less than 50 percent of law enforcement agencies participate in CDS. Only two states – New Jersey and Virginia – have law enforcement with more than 50 percent participation in eTrace and CDS.

  • Lagging processing times: The average eTrace request by law enforcement takes approximately 16 days to complete, more than double the ATF’s stated goal of seven days. This delay means many crime guns are going untraced for more than two weeks after a shooting. Similar delays are found with NIBIN, where a lack of infrastructure and staffing has led to 40 percent of sites not meeting ATF’s two-day target for timely lead generation.

  • Incomplete data for ballistic evidence: Shell casings for at least 130,000 out of 460,000 recovered crime guns nationwide were not entered into NIBIN in 2021, a number that is likely much higher for shell casings recovered without a gun.

  • Congressional roadblocks: Overly-restrictive laws and chronic underfunding has limited ATF’s ability to drive usage with law enforcement and analyze data in a timely manner.

Recommendations for state and federal law enforcement agencies and policymakers to remedy the tools’ shortcomings and improve participation rates include:

  • The ATF should integrate data across the intelligence tools and increase awareness to provide a comprehensive, national platform for law enforcement agencies.

  • States should require all law enforcement agencies to enroll in and comprehensively use eTrace, CDS, NIBIN, and NESS. The three states with the highest eTrace participation rate (New Jersey, Virginia, and North Carolina) all have state laws requiring law enforcement agencies to trace all recovered crime guns.

  • Congress should increase federal funding for ATF and the U.S. Department of Justice to support the expansion, improvement, and usage of crime gun intelligence tools.

“For every gun crime that goes unsolved, families and entire communities continue to suffer the extraordinary pain that comes with a lack of justice for the victim,” said Pamela Montgomery-Bosley, co-founder of Purpose over Pain and the mother of Terrell Bosley whose 2006 shooting death remains unsolved. “I hope these findings are a wakeup call to our police leaders and our elected officials that there is more they can do to keep us safe.”

To access the full report and its recommendations, please see HERE. To see a fully searchable database of agency participation, please see HERE.

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For media requests or questions, contact Sabrina Miller at [email protected].

For more than 25 years, the Joyce Foundation has been committed to supporting research, education, and policy solutions to reduce gun violence and help make communities safer. Our three-part strategy focuses on gun violence prevention, justice system reform and a new focus area of violence intervention.


About The Joyce Foundation

Joyce is a nonpartisan, private foundation that invests in evidence-informed public policies and strategies to advance racial equity and economic mobility for the next generation in the Great Lakes region.

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