How Crime Gun Intelligence Centers Use Technology & Evidence To Combat And Prevent Violent Crime

September 3, 2021

By Deepti Govind

“We know that shooters don’t just stop after one shooting,” ATF (the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) Special Agent Fred Milanowski told ABC 13 News in May. The first shooting is hard, the second one is a little easier, and by the time a serial shooter gets to the third shooting, they don’t pause to think about it and end up pulling out the gun to shoot every time they’re upset, Milanowski added, per that article. The whole idea behind the ATF’s creation of Crime Gun Intelligence Centers (CGIC) in 2016, in layman’s terms, is to get violent criminals, especially those with a history, off the streets before they become suspects in additional homicides. The goal is ensuring public safety by preventing future violence.

Why do CGICs and violent crime matter right now? At Biometrica, we’ve repeatedly covered reports of gun violence since the start of this year, including mass shootings. Even as recently as last week, we wrote about a new study released by a research team at Rutgers University–Camden that found a link between high eviction rates in some Philadelphia neighborhoods and high rates of crime, homicide, and burglary.

The country, law enforcement, and elected officials have been grappling with a recent spike in gun-related offenses and violent crime, not all of which is attributable to the seasonal spike recorded every summer. Fresh research seems to suggest that there’s been a reduction in the rates of criminal offenses like robberies, residential burglaries, larceny, non-residential burglaries, and drug offenses this year, but the number of murders have increased. Meanwhile, even as mass shootings spiked during the early months of the year, so did firearm background checks. In April, we wrote about the FBI conducting more background checks for individuals wanting to buy firearms in the first quarter of 2021 than in corresponding periods over the five previous years.

There’s no doubt that combating gun violence, which President Joe Biden has, on more than one occasion, termed an “epidemic,” and its related violent crimes remain a priority for law enforcement and society. In today’s piece, we take you through a few success stories where CGIC has helped in investigations of violent crime and has prevented future homicides from occurring; we also look at the typical workflow of a CGIC.

CGIC Success Stories

Per the ATF and the CGIC website, there have been instances where both well-established and newly created local CGIC sites are experiencing success. These local CGICs are leading to the identification and apprehension of serial shooters in a more strategic and timely manner, they say.

For instance, in April 2019, critical tips, surveillance video, and evidence all came together to identify and arrest the suspected shooter in the death of a 10-year-old in Phoenix, Arizona. Summer Bell Brown was shot in the driveway of her home and later died from her injuries in a suspected road-rage incident. She and her family were driving home on West Moreland Street when they noticed a white Ford F-150 4-door pickup following their vehicle closely, AZ Central said in a report from 2019. When Summer and her family pulled into their driveway, the truck stopped behind their car and the driver opened fire.

Summer and her father were both shot and taken to a hospital. Her mother and sister were also in the car but were not injured, officials said. The truck driver drove away after the shooting. The aforementioned tips from the public and looking through surveillance videos helped the police find the alleged truck, five miles from the scene of the shooting, parked in front of a home. Police were able to get a warrant to search the home and found a handgun in the garage. That handgun, in turn, was linked by forensic evidence to the shooting. What helped crucially, when it comes to the CGIC perspective, was that the suspected shooter had an extensive criminal background of violence.

Thus, the shooter, Joshua Gonzalez was booked into a Maricopa County jail on suspicion of first-degree murder and aggravated assault.

In Texas, the Houston Police Department and other local agencies joined the newly-formed ATF Crime Gun Strike Force only three years ago. Over the last two years alone, the strike force has managed to connect suspects to 466 violent crimes, the ABC 13 report says. In one case, three people were arrested as part of a crew that robbed GameStop, grocery stores, and money transfer kiosks. Federal court records show they first started with just threatening victims with guns, but eventually escalated into shooting victims, the article adds. Eventually, the three suspects, and 26 others, were linked to 39 robberies. And this spring, the most dangerous crew member was sentenced to nearly 27 years in federal prison. 

In Indianapolis, the local police department set up a CGIC in 2019. Members of the CGIC were conducting surveillance on a suspect wanted for federal crimes in mid-2019. Instead, they managed to nab an unrelated suspect who was allegedly dealing drugs. In this case too the suspect, Brendyn Woods, is said to have had a record of multiple felony burglary convictions and was found with a stolen gun. Until mid-June 2019, the CGIC had made 152 arrests, leading to 27 federal cases. And, as a whole, at that point the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department had seized more than 1,737 guns.

But the ATF and local CGICs also consider victimless crimes equally important, which includes instances of people just firing in the air. “The amount of calls coming in for just shots fired is just astronomical,” Jim Osburg, a federal agent with the ATF in Houston told ABC 13 News.

How Does It Work?

CGICs, like we mentioned before, were launched by the ATF as an inter-agency collaboration designed to collect, analyze, and distribute intelligence data about crime guns, mass shootings, and major incidents across multiple jurisdictions. CGICs provide investigative leads and support to crime gun intelligence initiatives across the country and beyond.

There are 25 CGICs located across the nation. In the fiscal year 2019, 67,000 investigative leads were generated by 220 National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) locations and 450,000 crime guns were traced back to their origins by the National Tracing Center, the ATF website says.

CGICs typically follow a seven step process. Here’s a quick summary of how that process works when it’s most effective, according to the Bureau of Justice Assistance:

  • Comprehensive Collection of Cartridge Casings and Crime Guns:
    CGICs are both most functional and effective when law enforcement personnel (e.g., patrol officers, crime scene technicians, investigators, etc.) are called to the scene of all gun crimes and collect cartridge casings and crime guns left at the scene.
  • NIBIN Entry/Correlation and Crime Gun Tracing:
    Within 24 hours of recovery, crime guns are processed for forensic evidence; test-fired cartridge casings and recovered crime scene cartridge casings are entered into the NIBIN; and NIBIN correlations to associated crimes are identified.
  • Crime Gun Intelligence Analysis:
    The ATF, with support from local law enforcement, conducts a comprehensive analysis of all crime gun data collected from eTrace and NIBIN. These data are rapidly disseminated to investigators to ensure appropriate linkage of crimes to unlawfully used firearms and suspects.
  • NIBIN Lead/Hit Assignment and Analysis:
    NIBIN leads/hits are triaged and immediately assigned to investigators.
  • Law Enforcement and Prosecution Collaboration and Offender Arrest:
    All actionable crime gun intelligence generated by the CGIC is rapidly disseminated to all partners and pursued using all available resources in conjunction with state and federal prosecutors.
  • State or Federal Prosecution:
    A strong partnership and close collaboration between the local prosecuting attorney and the United States Attorney’s Office are critical to the effectiveness of CGIC operations.
  • CGIC Feedback to Process Participants:
    All CGIC-related activities, such as NIBIN lead development and offender arrest and prosecution, should be tracked to measure CGIC outcomes and the impact on violent crime in the community.

We leave you with some recent statistics on the gun violence epidemic. According to the Gun Violence Archive (GVA), there have been 49 additional mass shootings in 2021 when compared with 2020, and 1,588 more gun deaths this year than last, as of Sept. 1. Tragically, there have also been 88 more children shot this year than there were last year, and 2,547 additional gun-related injuries in 2021 than in 2020.