A day after President Donald Trump threatened to “send in the feds” if Chicago can’t get a grip on its gun violence problem, a new report coauthored by two leading police groups reveals what many in the law enforcement community already know: that the majority of cities already receive federal assistance to combat violent crime, and that federal government resources and personnel are broadly welcomed at the local level.
The report, published by the Police Foundation, a nonprofit founded by law enforcement officials, and the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which represents police chiefs and sheriffs of the 68 largest law enforcement agencies in the nation, also includes a series of recommendations that puts it at odds with the gun lobby and its allies in Congress and the White House. The police groups call for an expansion of background checks to cover all gun purchases, a ban on high-capacity magazines, the repeal of a National Rifle Association-backed amendment that severely restricts the federal government’s ability to share data about guns used in crimes, and increased levels of federal funding for gun violence research.
The report also urges Congress to pass a federal gun-trafficking law that includes penalties for straw purchasing; an increase in the budget for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; and making investigation tools, like ballistic imaging, more widely available to local law enforcement.
The report is described by its authors as an examination of “opportunities for the new Administration to lead the nation in reducing the alarming recent trend of increasing homicides and shootings in many major U.S. cities and counties.”
The recommendations are a result of a months-long examination by the Police Foundation and Major Cities Chiefs Association, which included an analysis of violent crime data and federal budgets, along with interviews with dozens of current and former law enforcement leaders.
“The federal government must re-prioritize violent crime and public safety as primary concerns, focusing attention on local, public safety crises,” the report says.
The report includes the results of a survey completed by police officials in major American cities and counties.
More than three-quarters of respondents said that a federal task force that focuses exclusively on violent crime, or gun crime, is already active in their jurisdiction. Every respondent said they viewed federal help combating violent crime as valuable — though there were different ideas about what kind of assistance was most worthwhile.
Nearly all the police chiefs who responded to the survey characterized federal assistance with ballistic imaging and tracing crime guns as “very useful.” The only survey response that a significant number of law enforcement executives deemed “not useful” was federal law enforcement’s short-term staffing through surges in crime.
As with many of his Twitter declarations, it is not clear what Trump meant when he warned of federal government intervention in Chicago, though one interpretation could be a surge of federal agents. It is also unclear whether other cities that have serious violent crime problems would also get such assistance: or even if “assistance” is an apt word for what the president might have in mind.
While Chicago is grappling with an increase in killings — there were 764 last year, more than in New York and Los Angeles combined — the homicide rate in many other cities, including St. Louis and New Orleans, is substantially higher.
On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that Trump’s version of federal assistance could “span a bunch of things.” In written remarks prepared as part of his confirmation proceeding, Senator Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for Attorney General, indicated that a priority would be increasing federal gun prosecutions and cracking down on gun trafficking.
The report’s authors say U.S. Attorneys should work with local police to reduce violent crime, but cautioned against strategies focused only on increasing the volume of prosecutions.
“The notions of criminal justice reform and offender accountability are not mutually exclusive and should be adopted as one concept,” the report reads. “Allied criminal justice professionals must hold dangerous and repeat offenders accountable but not through a return to mass incarceration.”
The report also advocates the introduction of a federal firearms-trafficking statute “immediately.” The police chiefs surveyed said that access to illegal firearms is one of the top drivers of gun violence in their jurisdictions, along with gang violence and drug-related disputes.
“Gun trafficking, illegal gun markets, theft, and illegal diversion are critical issues that have not been sufficiently addressed in the criminal justice system,” the report reads.
The FBI and ATF were named by police leaders as the federal agencies which provide “unique capabilities” that police find most beneficial. Specifically, the chiefs said they value the FBI’s assistance in long-term crime investigations, and the ATF’s stewardship of gun-tracing services and the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network, a ballistic matching program that can identify guns used in multiple crimes. The report calls for the expansion of the ballistics program to all 50 states.
The report’s authors assert that it is not only the case that federal initiatives are underfunded, but that entire agencies require more federal money. In recent years, the non-defense budgets for the FBI and ATF have remained relatively level, even as the agency responsible for enforcing immigration law has seen its funding more than double.
The report concludes that violent crime must become a national priority.
“To effectively reverse the trends we are seeing today, it is imperative that the new Administration and new Congress provide effective and reasoned leadership on this issue and avoid partisan positions that have allowed gun violence to continue to take innocent lives,” it reads.