Research Reports

Optimizing Crime Gun Intelligence

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Introduction

Introduction

Crime gun intelligence tools can help law enforcement disrupt the supply of crime guns, identify and apprehend offenders, and prevent future acts of gun violence when properly implemented. Tools like eTrace and the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) have increased clearance rates for gun crimes ranging from homicide to aggravated assault in cities like Milwaukee. However, a new Joyce Foundation report, Optimizing Crime Gun Intelligence, finds significant gaps in resourcing, participation, and utilization of these tools at the federal, state, and local level.

This report analyzes the current crime gun intelligence landscape and recommends ways to strengthen the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) crime gun intelligence tools, by increasing participation and usage of the tools by federal, state, and local law enforcement, and providing resources for an expanded and sustainable crime gun intelligence approach.

Key findings

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 participate in eTrace’s Collective Data Sharing function (CDS). Only New Jersey and Virginia law enforcement agencies participate in eTrace and CDS at levels higher than 50 percent.
  • Lagging processing times: The average eTrace request takes approximately 16 days to complete, more than double ATF’s goal of seven days. This delay means many crime guns are going untraced for more than two weeks after a shooting. Similar delays exist 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 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.

Via a Freedom of Information Act request, the Joyce Foundation obtained new data on the eTrace, eTrace Collective Data Sharing (CDS), and NIBIN systems from ATF, including a full list of law enforcement agencies participating in eTrace and CDS systems as of January 2024 and a full list of NIBIN sites. The NIBIN sites include the amount of ballistic evidence entered per site, and the average processing time for lead generation.

Database of all law enforcement agencies and their use of eTrace and CDS

This database cross-references eTrace and CDS participants as of January 10, 2024, with a census of all law enforcement agencies in the United States. The goal of this database is to allow users the ability to identify whether specific agencies are participating in eTrace and or CDS. To generate the census of law enforcement agencies used, the report authors used a 2018 Census of State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies from the U.S. Department of Justice, and a 2020 list of US law enforcement agencies by their Originating Agency Identifier (ORI) number. The authors merged these two datasets, removing duplicates, to generate as comprehensive a list of U.S. law enforcement agencies as possible.

Law enforcement agencies utilizing eTrace and CDS

Full list of state and local law enforcement agencies participating in eTrace as of January 10, 2024. For each agency, the list includes the agency’s Originating Agency Identifier (ORI) number, the city and state in which the agency is based, whether the agency has opted into CDS, and the date on which its memorandum of understanding to participate in eTrace was signed. ATF provided this data to the Joyce Foundation on January 11, 2024.

List of current NIBIN sites

Full list of NIBIN sites as of June 30, 2023. For each NIBIN site, this list includes the associated ATF field division, the city and state in which the site is based, the site ID code, the number of test fire and cartridge case entries at the site per year, the number of acquisition stations (or NIBIN machines) at the site, the date the site was established, and the average processing time between evidence acquisition and lead generation (in days) for cartridge case and test fire entries. ATF provided this data to the Joyce Foundation on October 16, 2023.

Questions about this report can be addressed to [email protected].

Law enforcement agencies looking to begin using these crime gun intelligence tools should contact [email protected].

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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Research Report

Optimizing Crime Gun Intelligence

A new Joyce Foundation report finds significant gaps in resourcing, participation, and utilization of crime gun intelligence tools at the federal, state, and local level.