Profile No. 10

Boston Gun Project -- Boston, MA

Program Type or Federal Program Source:
Project to target violent crime and criminals; ATF; U.S. Attorney's Office.

Program Goal:
To investigate firearm trafficking and armed career criminals.

Specific Groups Targeted by the Strategy:
Illegal gun traffickers and violent perpetrators who use guns.

Geographical Area Targeted by the Strategy:
Boston, MA.

Evaluated by:
Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

Contact Information:
Phil Tortorella, Group Supervisor
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms
Boston Field Office
O'Neil Federal Building
10 Causeway Street, Room 701
Boston, MA 02222
Phone: 617­565­7054

Years of Operation:

Gun trafficking interdiction is one component of a broad strategy implemented by law enforcement officials to stop gun violence in Boston, described more fully in profile 2. Major partners in the city's efforts are ATF, the Boston Police Department (BPD), the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office, and the U.S. Attorney's Office. These partners have worked together to direct the investigations of firearm trafficking and armed career criminals. The Boston ATF supervisor finds that the key to the program's success has been the close working relationship and genuine cooperation between ATF and local police.

This cooperation has taken many forms. Within both BPD and ATF, organizational resources were made available exclusively to investigate firearm-trafficking cases. A seasoned violent crime coordinator was assigned by ATF to pursue Federal firearm arrests. ATF also assigned six agents to collaborate with the ballistics and crime laboratories at BPD to trace recovered handguns and match them to other crimes. The police and ATF followed a protocol that guided this process. ATF attempted to trace every gun recovered by BPD through ATF's National Tracing Center to discover sources of illegal weapons and gun-trafficking patterns. For their part, the Youth Violence Strike Force officers extracted gun market information from offenders charged with serious, nongun charges. BPD and ATF also conducted joint inspections of all federally licensed firearm dealers in Boston, checking to ensure that they were in compliance with Federal, State, and local laws and regulations. As a result of these inspections, 65 license holders (80 percent) decided not to renew their licences or to surrender them, leaving only 17 licensed dealers in Boston.

ATF also developed a local tracing data set, consisting of police information and trace data, that was helpful in the development of Boston's Operation Ceasefire strategies (see profile 21) and Boston's strategy to prevent youth violence (see profile 2).

Based on the ATF tracing data set, members in the working group established priorities for disrupting the illegal gun market, realizing that they would never totally eliminate it. First, the working group prioritized investigating every trace that showed a gun with a time-to-crime of less than 30 months. Investigative priority also was given to certain types of guns popular with youth (e.g., semiautomatic handguns), those with restored obliterated serial numbers, those found in high-risk neighborhoods, and those associated with gang members or territories. Investigations of illegal traffickers focused on guns involved in multiple crimes and for which specific FFL's or first purchasers could be identified. Another tactic was to link the trace data set with gang membership data to identify gun possessors who also were gang members.

The working group also prioritized, through the U.S. Attorney's Office, swift Federal prosecution for gun trafficking. Federal prosecution is believed to deter gun usage by gangs because it carries longer sentences than those for most State gun crimes, and because gang members fear being in a Federal correctional facility away from home and family and without the security of knowing other prisoners. The joint efforts of ATF, BPD, and the U.S. Attorney's Office also resulted in the investigation and prosecution of several interstate gun-trafficking rings in Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts, and Mississippi.

Based on the success of the Boston Gun Project, ATF launched the Youth Crime Gun Interdiction Initiative in 17 demonstration cities in 1996. (See section VIII for more details.)

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