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Wisconsin Law Enforcement Agencies Can Solve More Gun Crimes Using Federal Intelligence Tools

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

Wisconsin Law Enforcement Agencies Can Solve More Gun Crimes Using Federal Intelligence Tools

New Study Finds Half of Wisconsin Law Enforcement Agencies don’t use resources that can clear gun crimes, save lives; study encourages more law enforcement participation

CHICAGO, IL - More than half of law enforcement agencies in Wisconsin are not using federal crime gun intelligence tools that can identify major gun traffickers, improve gun crime clearance rates, 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 federal agency overseeing the tools, and barriers created by Congress are all factors preventing these resources from being fully utilized. However, 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 federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) oversees the four primary crime gun intelligence tools – eTrace, Collective Data Sharing (CDS), the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN), and the NIBIN Enforcement Support System (NESS) – resources that allow law enforcement to analyze crime guns, shell casings, and police records. But only 48% of law enforcement agencies in Wisconsin are signed up to participate in eTrace. Of the agencies enrolled in eTrace, only 27% share their gun trace data with other agencies statewide through CDS – meaning the vast majority of crime gun-related data never leaves the police department from which it was collected. And, there are only 4 NIBIN terminals in the entire state which significantly slows down ballistic processing abilities.

“As gun violence continues to devastate communities across the state, 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 in Wisconsin need to take advantage of these important tools that we know work in a fair and just way. This study offers strategies that can be used to help them get there.”

Other key findings include:

  • Lagging processing times: When law enforcement does utilize eTrace, the average “standard” request takes approximately 16 days to complete, more than double the ATF’s stated goal of 7 days. This delay means many crime guns are going untraced for more than two weeks after a shooting. Similar delays are found with NIBIN sites, where a lack of infrastructure and staffing has led to 40% 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.

These findings have significant implications in Wisconsin, where gun-related deaths have increased much faster than the national rate. 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.

While there is room for improvement on utilization rates across Wisconsin, Milwaukee has taken important steps forward in engaging with these tools. The Milwaukee Police Department and Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office, in partnership with ATF, established one of the nation’s first Crime Gun Intelligence Centers in 2014. The model has resulted in coordinated gun crime investigations citywide, and has led to a higher clearance rate for non-fatal shootings.

"The National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN) and Etrace are invaluable tools to assist with the disruption of gun violence," said the Milwaukee Police Department's Captain Phillip Simmert. "These tools link crimes that would otherwise be unknown to law enforcement. This ultimately increases the number of investigative leads and assists with solving crimes."

Finally, the study outlines a comprehensive set of recommendations for how Wisconsin, federal law enforcement agencies, and policymakers can increase access and improve participation rates, including:

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

“Gun violence remains the leading cause of death for children in Wisconsin, and it is incredibly disappointing to learn that our law enforcement officials are leaving tools on the table to help solve it,” said Jeri Bonavia, executive director of WAVE, a gun violence prevention organization. “We’re calling on our state and federal policymakers and law enforcement leaders to do all they can to make sure these tools are available to every community in Wisconsin to help solve gun crimes and save lives.”

To access the full report and its recommendations, including additional information on Milwaukee’s initiatives, please see HERE. To see a fully searchable database of agency participation, please see HERE.

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For media requests or questions, please 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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