Profile No. 11

Chicago Anti-Gun Enforcement (CAGE) Program -- Chicago, IL

Program Type or Federal Program Source:
Program to target violent criminals.

Program Goal:
To investigate the illegal purchase and transfer of firearms.

Specific Groups Targeted by the Strategy:
Illegal handgun purchasers.

Geographical Area Targeted by the Strategy:
Chicago, IL.

Evaluated by:
Internal data collection.

Contact Information:
Sergeant Ken Barnas
Chicago Police Department
3340 West Fillmore Street
Chicago, IL 60624
Phone: 312­746­5884

Years of Operation:

The Chicago Anti-Gun Enforcement (CAGE) team was established in the mid-1990's in response to an increase in the number of gun-related crimes. The Chicago Police Department believed that a more proactive approach was needed: Instead of focusing exclusively on the crime itself, gun violence could be reduced by investigating individuals who purchased guns that were used in crimes and arresting and prosecuting the straw purchasers who were the sources of many of these illegal weapons. At the start of the program, only two officers were assigned to the CAGE team; by 1998, when police data suggested that additional resources could cause significant reductions in illegal gun purchases, the team was increased to eight Chicago police gang specialists and two special agents from ATF who are detailed to the unit.

Copyright 1998 © Weststock.
Any firearm recovered at the scene of the crime is investigated by this special unit. First, investigators obtain the serial number of the gun and forward it to the ATF's National Tracing Center, which will reveal information about the manufacturer, the FFL that sold the firearm, the purchaser, and the purchaser's State-mandated Firearms Owner Identification (FOID) card, if any. The CAGE team then contacts the Illinois State Police and requests information on how many times that person has been "queried" -- that is, how many times a gun dealer has informed the State police that a FOID holder has tried to purchase firearms or ammunition. Not only does State law require that the FFL report each transaction, but the FFL is not even allowed to show weapons or ammunition to anyone who does not have a FOID card. (FFL's are also required to notify ATF when someone is buying more than two guns in 1 week.) The law also requires that the purchaser retain records on the gun for 10 years. In the event that the weapon is sold to someone else, the original purchaser must ensure that the new purchaser has a FOID card and meets the same State and Federal requirements for firearm purchases.

Using information obtained from the State police, the CAGE team initiates an investigation, beginning with the weapon that was recovered from the crime scene. The unit also works with its two ATF agents to obtain information on all the guns that have ever been purchased by a particular individual, based on information from ATF. When sufficient evidence is obtained, an arrest is made; if the case warrants Federal prosecution, the CAGE team works with the U.S. Attorney's Office to have the case prosecuted in Federal court (where penalties are more severe) rather than in State court.

One of the strengths of the CAGE team is its ability to complete a weapons trace quickly -- in about 24 hours, compared with the 2 weeks that are normally required. There has been no independent evaluation of the program, although the unit has collected evidence suggesting that the CAGE team has been successful in identifying straw purchasers and preventing guns from being transferred to the illegal market. During the period January 1­October 8, 1998, for example, the CAGE team made a total of 61 arrests, both felony (e.g., gun running and unlawful sales) and misdemeanor (e.g., failure to maintain records).

During the period January 1­September 30, 1998, CAGE team requests for ATF tracing documented 874 firearms. Of that number, 154 weapons were recovered from crime scenes by the Chicago Police Department or other local law enforcement agencies, and 131 were recovered by the CAGE team during its investigations of suspected straw purchasers or gun runners. The remaining weapons were reported missing, stolen, or otherwise unaccounted for. The CAGE team launched 123 investigations during that same period, resulting in the 61 arrests noted above. So far, 27 case dispositions have resulted in 23 convictions with jail time or probation; approximately 30 cases are still pending.

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