Review of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’
Violent Crime Impact Team Initiative
Evaluation and Inspections Report I-2006-005
Office of the Inspector General
Although ATF developed a detailed VCIT Strategy, we found that local operations did not implement the Strategy’s five key elements as defined by the OIG review team. Through our review of the VCIT Strategy, as well as our interviews with the former Deputy Attorney General and ATF officials, we identified five key elements that were essential to implementing the VCIT Strategy. In interviews with the OIG, ATF officials said they expected that these elements would be integrated into each local VCIT operation. The five key elements and their implementation by local VCIT operations were:
VCIT Operations in Five Cities
We visited five VCIT pilot cities (Tampa, Tucson, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Miami) to assess in more detail how each ATF Field Division had implemented the key elements of the VCIT Strategy. The following sections describe our observations, together with the results that ATF reported for each location.
The DEA Special Agent in Charge told us that the DEA had minimal involvement because he saw ATF as going after low-level drug violators who were accused of illegally possessing less than 5 kilograms of illegal drugs. However, when DEA Special Agents encountered firearms, he said that they would call ATF. The FBI did not assign personnel to the VCIT. The USMS had originally assigned a Deputy U.S. Marshal full time to the VCIT. However, the Deputy U.S. Marshal stated that he was never called upon to participate. The USMS later designated another Deputy U.S. Marshal as a point of contact to handle VCIT requests for assistance. At the time of our site visit, the VCIT had not yet asked the USMS to participate in a law enforcement operation.
VCIT personnel reported that they worked occasionally with a Department of Homeland Security U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) task force and with several state and local agencies.
The VCIT worked with ICE Special Agents whenever it identified illegal aliens associated with violent crime. In addition, the VCIT worked with the state department of law enforcement in sharing and analyzing intelligence. Also, the state department of corrections occasionally provided information on old cases and parolees who served time for violent crime. In the past, ATF had worked closely with TPD’s Quick Uniformed Attack on Drugs street-level police officers. However, a TPD District Captain told us that the new Chief of Police was not task force oriented. Most TPD officers serving on task forces had been pulled back to patrol duties and made available to the VCIT on an as needed basis, she said.
ATF indicated in its January 2006 Best Practices report that the Tampa VCIT was successful during the pilot period because the number of homicides committed with firearms decreased from 19 during June through November 2003 to 9 during the same period in 2004 (53 percent) in the target area.
The VCIT used a three-pronged approach: (1) targeting recently released violent offenders through the use of the “worst of the worst” list; (2) initiating proactive investigations, such as undercover surveillance; and (3) identifying and targeting potential straw purchasers or traffickers through the use of ATF’s investigative technology resources.13 The Assistant Special Agent in Charge stated that the approach was very similar to the Violence Impact Program he used in Phoenix. The Tucson Police Department and Pima County Attorney’s Office officials said they viewed VCIT operations as an extension of ATF’s Project Safe Neighborhoods activities already going on in the city.
At the outset of the VCIT initiative, a Special Agent from the DEA had been assigned to the VCIT. The agent spent about 2 weeks working full time with the VCIT, but because most VCIT cases had no drug nexus, he eventually returned to his own office on a full-time basis. The FBI did not assign personnel to the VCIT. Managers at the local USMS office stated that, although they were aware of the VCIT initiative, they did not have the resources to assign personnel to the VCIT.
The VCIT did have a partnership with ICE, the state department of corrections, and the Tucson Police Department. A Special Agent from ICE was on call to assist VCIT members who encountered illegal immigrants with firearms or those VCIT members who were unsure of the authenticity of immigration-related documents. On the state level, parole officers at the state department of corrections stated that they submitted referrals to the VCIT, but did not actively participate in investigations.
In May 2005, ATF Special Agents assigned to the VCIT began patrolling the streets in the two target areas 4 nights per week with members of the Tucson Police Department’s specialized Bravo Units. Each Division had its own team of Special Agents and Police Officers. According to the VCIT Coordinator, this strategy was implemented after he learned about the success that another VCIT was having with it. In addition to patrols, the unit also responded to firearms crime scenes, worked follow-up on cases, and sometimes conducted undercover work.
ATF indicated in its January 2006 Best Practices report that the Tucson VCIT was successful during the pilot period because the number of homicides committed with firearms decreased from 24 during June through November 2003 to 18 during the same period in 2004 (25 percent) in the city itself (not in the target area).
In addition to federal law enforcement personnel and PPD officers, the VCIT included two investigators from the state narcotics bureau and two members of the circuit court bench warrant unit. According to VCIT members, the narcotics bureau agents provided the same support to the VCIT that the DEA would have brought, including surveillance equipment, legal staff, chemists, evidence handlers, and money to acquire evidence and information. ATF personnel stated that the most valuable resources were the officers from the judicial circuit bench warrant unit because these officers could easily detain or arrest VCIT targets with active bench warrants.
ATF indicated in its January 2006 Best Practices report that the Philadelphia VCIT was successful during the pilot period because homicides committed with firearms decreased from 12 during June through November 2003 to 3 during the same period in 2004 (75 percent) in the target area.
Los Angeles VCIT
Between one and four LAPD officers worked in each segment of the target area. The VCIT developed a partnership with LAPD’s Gun Unit, which works firearms cases originating anywhere in the city. The VCIT also worked with the state department of corrections.
ATF indicated in its January 2006 Best Practices report that the Los Angeles VCIT had not demonstrated success during the pilot period because homicides committed with firearms increased from 72 during June through November 2003 to 77 during the same period in 2004 (7 percent) in the target area.
In addition to the federal personnel, the VCIT worked closely with approximately 15 officers from the Miami-Dade County Police Department. The police department also provided technical support, canines, and helicopter cover when necessary. The VCIT also worked with the Miami Police Department (MPD), but the working relationship had diminished to an “as needed” basis after many of the MPD officers were reassigned to other duties. We were told that ATF VCIT members responded to the scene of all firearms-related violent crimes and every police interaction with targeted individuals and associates of those individuals if they were in possession of firearms or ammunition and were stopped in the target area.
ATF indicated in its January 2006 Best Practices report that the Miami VCIT was successful during the pilot period because homicides committed with firearms decreased from 36 from June through November 2003 to 22 during the same period in 2004 (39 percent) in the city itself (not the target area).
In addition to our five field visits, we conducted a survey and additional research to assess how the VCITs implemented the five key elements identified by the review team. We summarize below our findings regarding the implementation of the 5 key elements of the VCIT strategy across the 19 VCITs that we surveyed, including the 5 that we visited.
Target Small Geographic Areas
Eighteen of the 19 VCIT Coordinators who responded to our survey considered “identifying and working within a defined target area” a core or essential component of their VCIT initiative and stated that their VCIT targets or operates in a specific geographic area. However, we found that the specific geographic areas varied greatly in size and population. Overall, we found that8 VCITs targeted areas of 10 square miles or less, and 10 VCITs targeted areas ranging from 20 to 2,100 square miles. Two VCITs targeted entire cities, and one targeted an entire county. The population in the VCIT target areas ranged from 25,000 to 3 million residents. Eight of the VCIT target areas had a population of 50,000 or more.14
The VCIT Strategy also indicated that, consistent with targeting a small geographic target area, VCITs should be composed of a small number of ATF Special Agents. Specifically, the VCIT Strategy recommended that four Special Agents and a Supervisory Special Agent be assigned to a VCIT. However, we found that ATF assigned an average of 10 Special Agents to each of the 19 VCITs, with a range of 3 to 34 Special Agents. Table 3 details the sizes of the areas targeted by 19 VCITs and the population within each of the target areas.
Table 3: VCIT Target Areas
A Senior Counsel to the Deputy Attorney General told us that some VCITs “took on too much – too much geographic area and too many people.” ATF Headquarters officials also acknowledged that some of the target areas were too large. However, these officials said they notified only one VCIT of this concern. The Assistant Director for Field Operations stated that the Los Angeles VCIT, which operated in an area of 3 million people, “has been notified that it is biting off more than it can chew.” The Los Angeles VCIT Coordinator confirmed this assessment in his response to our survey, reporting that his VCIT’s target area “is too large to be effective.” At the time of our site visit, the target area had been reduced from three local police districts and a sheriff’s substation to two police districts. The VCIT Coordinator later reported that he planned to reduce the size of the target area yet again.
Target the Worst Violent Offenders
We found that 6 of the 19 VCITs (32 percent) used a “worst of the worst” list and kept it updated to reflect arrests and newly identified targets. Of the remaining 13 VCITs, 7 used a “worst of the worst” list, but did not keep it up to date, and 6 did not use a “worst of the worst” list.
According to ATF officials, when an individual on such a list was stopped or arrested by any VCIT partner agency, ATF could then alert the investigating officers about the individual’s criminal history, associations, and ATF’s potential interest in federal prosecution. The officials anticipated that any arrest of someone on a “worst of the worst” list would result in ATF involvement in the case and, potentially, federal firearms charges.15
ATF Field Division managers in VCIT cities gave varying reasons for not using lists of targeted offenders. One VCIT Coordinator stated that he attempted to develop such a list, but that he later decided that his VCIT would have more impact on violent crime by investigating recent firearms violence rather than waiting for targeted individuals to commit crimes. The Special Agent in Charge in another Field Division stated that a “worst of the worst” list would be interpreted by community leaders as a form of racial profiling and, as a result, that VCIT did not use such a list. In a third city we visited, ATF developed a “worst of the worst” list, but it was not useful because ATF VCIT members did not share the list with non-ATF VCIT members.
In addition, arrest data suggested that the VCITs did not focus sufficiently on targeted individuals. According to VCIT arrest data, targeted individuals represented only about 20 percent of the total number of arrests by the VCITs. Although a key element of the VCIT initiative was to target the worst offenders, from June 2004 through May 2005, the VCITs reported making 3,592 federal and state arrests, of which 746 were targeted individuals. Further, since only 6 VCITs used up-to-date “worst of the worst” lists, and ATF did not require that VCITs document the definition of “targeted individual” that they used to compile these data, it could not be determined whether these 746 targeted individuals were the worst violent offenders in the target areas. Figure 3 depicts the number of individuals targeted and how many of those individuals were arrested.
While some variation in the number and type of individuals targeted would be expected, ATF has not established clear criteria for developing and using “worst of the worst” lists (or some other method) to identify targeted individuals in each community. Further, because arrests of targeted individuals – however they were defined by a VCIT – constituted only a small portion of some VCITs’ arrests, ATF is unable to assess the effect of targeting and arresting the worst violent offenders in the target areas on reducing violent crimes committed with firearms, a major goal of the VCIT initiative.
Build Effective Working Relationships with Community Leaders
The VCITs were expected to develop relationships with community leaders to facilitate a “free flow” of information that could help them identify and apprehend violent offenders. In our survey of VCIT Coordinators, 11 reported engaging in community outreach, such as attending community meetings and participating in neighborhood watch activities. Eight VCIT coordinators did not report that community relations were an essential part of their strategy. Three of the 5 sites we visited were among the 11 that reported they engaged in community outreach. However, during our site visits we found that none of the five VCITs actively participated in any community outreach. In fact, in one of the five cities, the VCIT Coordinator told us that the VCIT had initiated community outreach activities, but discontinued them when nothing from the community outreach gave the VCIT information on the people they wanted to arrest.
We found that local community groups in that city were unaware of the VCIT and its operations. We interviewed several community group leaders working in the target area, including the Advisory Board President of the recreation center where ATF and local police department officials had held a press conference to announce the expansion of the local VCIT. The President stated that although he knew about the press conference, he did not know anything about ATF’s VCIT initiative before the event and had not heard anything since the press conference. Another prominent community leader associated with a neighborhood drug prevention program said that, until the OIG informed him of the VCIT’s expansion into his program’s service area, he did not know about the VCIT or ATF’s presence in the community.
We concluded that the majority of the 19 VCITs did not undertake activities to develop relationships in the community that could produce leads and other information useful for criminal investigations.
Utilize ATF’s Investigative Technology Resources
We determined that VCITs did not consistently use the services of the NTC, the NIBIN, and the CGAB to facilitate their investigations. ATF encouraged VCITs to make expanded and consistent use of these technological resources, stating that they were essential to suppressing violent criminals in the target areas.
National Tracing Center. According to NTC officials, six VCITs consistently used the NTC to expedite gun tracings, seven VCITs used the NTC but not consistently, and four VCIT cities’ use of the NTC declined after ATF implemented the VCITs. Although all VCIT Coordinators reported it was part of their local VCIT strategies to use the NTC to trace serial numbers of firearms used in crimes and recovered at crime scenes, we found VCITs did not routinely flag requests for NTC traces and, therefore, did not receive the high priority that ATF intended. According to NTC data, during the VCITs’ first year in operation, 6 VCITs flagged their requests from 21 to 291 times, and 7 VCITs used the flag fewer than 12 times.16 In two of the five VCIT cities we visited, personnel responsible for submitting trace requests stated that they were unaware that they were supposed to flag VCIT requests. A clerk in one of the cities said that the electronic trace submission program used there did not have a VCIT project code, so VCIT submissions to the NTC could not be flagged. An ATF contractor responsible for submitting trace requests in the other city said that clerks at the VCIT’s local police partner agency only marked trace requests as “urgent” for high profile or newsworthy incidents.17 Any VCIT case that did not meet those criteria, she said, was not labeled “urgent.” She also stated that she tried to keep the number of “urgent” trace requests to a minimum.
Overall, during the 1-year period following the implementation of the initial 15 VCITs, NTC data showed a 15-percent increase in the number of trace requests it received from those cities. However, because the city-wide NTC data are not specific to the VCIT target areas, the changes may not be attributable to VCIT operations. We also noted that while 11 of the cities increased their NTC usage, 4 submitted fewer trace requests.18 One of the cities submitted 524 fewer trace requests during the first year of VCIT operations (2,694) than it did during the same period prior to implementing a VCIT (3,218).
National Integrated Ballistics Information Network. The NIBIN program collects and analyzes images of fired cartridge casings and bullets to link specific firearms to criminal activity. We compared NIBIN submissions by pilot VCIT cities for the 6 months before VCIT implementation (January through June 2004) with pilot cities’ submissions during VCIT operations (July through December 2004). We found that six VCIT cities submitted more images after VCIT implementation, seven submitted fewer images, and two did not submit any images to the NIBIN during 2004. Together, the initial 15 VCIT cities submitted 4,350 more images to the database during the first 6 months of 2005 than they did during the same period in 2004.19 However, one VCIT city accounted for 1,305 (30 percent) of these additional images.20 We concluded that although VCITs increased the emphasis on violent firearm crime, over half of the VCIT cities made fewer submissions to the NIBIN after ATF implemented local VCIT operations than prior to implementation of the VCIT initiative.
The VCIT Coordinators in all five cities we visited stated that they would like to submit images of all ballistics evidence found in VCIT target areas to the NIBIN, and NIBIN Branch staff told us that all VCIT cities have access to the NIBIN. However, we found that not all the VCITs used the NIBIN. One VCIT city did not submit images because ATF had not placed ballistics imaging equipment in that location.21 Further, in two of the cities we visited, VCIT Coordinators stated that personnel shortages at their local law enforcement partner agencies often resulted in processing backlogs and limited the number of ballistics images that could be processed. In one of those cities, the local law enforcement partner submitted ballistics evidence images only for violent firearms-related crimes that occurred in the city, according to the VCIT Coordinator. Because of personnel shortages, the agency did not submit images for firearms and shell casings recovered in the VCIT target areas if they were not related to violent crimes. The VCIT Coordinator said that it should be a priority to have images of all VCIT-related ballistics evidence submitted to the NIBIN; however, he stated that he had no authority over how the local police department handled its ballistics evidence.
Crime Gun Analysis Branch. In response to our survey, 17 VCIT Coordinators (89 percent) stated that they used the CGAB on an ongoing basis as part of their VCIT strategy. However, during our site visits to five of the VCIT cities, local VCIT personnel stated that they did not routinely use the CGAB. In fact, in three cities we visited, ATF personnel and contract staff explained that they were assigned to produce reports similar to those provided by the CGAB – an indication that the type of information produced by the CGAB was useful to VCITs but that ATF did not tailor CGAB reports to support VCIT operations.
An ATF contractor in one of the cities said that his “crime gun” reports better reflected the jurisdictional boundaries and areas with high levels of violent gang activity in the VCIT target area than the CGAB’s reports. He stated that a CGAB report on his city was not of high quality and inaccurately depicted jurisdictional boundaries. He surmised that this was due to the CGAB’s lack of familiarity with the unique aspects of the city.22 In another city we visited, an analyst for the VCIT’s local law enforcement partner stated that, at the direction of her agency’s own crime analysis unit, she continued to produce quarterly “crime gun” maps similar to those included in the CGAB’s quarterly report. She stated that she used the same computer software to produce her maps, but included more comprehensive data than the CGAB. Her reports (not the CGAB’s) were later cited by local ATF personnel when they explained the area’s crime trends to the OIG review team.
According to the Chief of the CGAB, between June 2004 and August 2005 the CGAB produced 92 VCIT-related “crime gun” reports, which represented about 15 to 20 percent of the CGAB’s annual workload.
We determined that despite the CGAB’s distribution of “crime gun” reports, ATF has not ensured that VCITs use these reports or work with the CGAB to determine the appropriate VCIT boundaries. As a result, VCITs are not fully utilizing the CGAB to identify current “hot spots of criminal activity and the sources of ‘crime guns’ from those problem areas,” as described in the VCIT Strategy.
Work in Partnership with Other Department Law Enforcement Components
Of the 19 VCITs, most did not have assigned representatives from the DEA, FBI, and USMS. One did include representatives from the DEA, FBI, and USMS; another 14 VCITs included a representative from one or two of those agencies; and 4 VCITs had no representative from any other Department law enforcement component. The VCIT Coordinators reported that the DEA provided Special Agents to 7 VCITs, the FBI provided Special Agents to 3 VCITs, and the USMS provided U.S. Deputy Marshals to 14 VCITs. In comparison, VCIT coordinators reported that the USAOs provided AUSAs to 17 of the VCITs. See Table 4.
Table 4: Department of Justice Component Participation
We also found that when the DEA and USMS assigned personnel to VCITs, the personnel were often unaware of their expected roles and did not always receive clear direction from either ATF or their own agency regarding their expected duties. At only one of the five sites we visited did personnel from either the DEA or USMS tell us that they had a clear understanding of their role on the local VCIT.
Efforts to Encourage Participation. The DEA and USMS issued memorandums to their managers in the VCIT cities introducing the initiative and encouraging support for it. In addition, the Deputy Attorney General, in a conference call, informed the U.S. Marshals for the 15 pilot VCIT cities about the VCIT initiative. FBI Headquarters officials considered participating in the VCIT initiative, according to an FBI Unit Chief, and left the decision to participate with the Special Agents in Charge in the VCIT cities.
Unclear Roles for DEA and USMS Participation. DEA and USMS personnel assigned to VCITs stated that they had not received clear direction from either ATF or their own agencies regarding their expected duties. In only one of the five VCIT cities we visited did personnel from either of the components have a clear understanding of their role in the local VCIT. In the other four, DEA and USMS personnel assigned to VCIT said they did not understand the VCIT initiative or their role as a VCIT participant.
DEA managers could clearly articulate the mission and objectives of the VCIT initiative in only one of the five cities we visited. In two of those cities, DEA managers and Special Agents were completely unfamiliar with VCIT. We also found that the few DEA personnel who participated in the VCIT initiative did not receive clear direction from ATF regarding their roles.
Although USMS Headquarters officials told us that the USMS was willing to participate in the VCIT initiative, we found a conflict in expectations between USMS personnel and VCIT Coordinators that was similar to that of the DEA. For example, in one city we visited, a Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal, acting on USMS Headquarters direction, stated that the USMS had assigned a Deputy U.S. Marshal full time to the local VCIT, but ATF personnel told the Deputy to continue his regular duties with USMS and that VCIT would contact him if necessary. In another city we visited, the Deputy U.S. Marshal assigned to the local VCIT told us that he took it upon himself to initiate warrant “sweeps” in the VCIT area because he had been given no guidance regarding his role as a part-time VCIT partner.
ATF did not address local conditions when selecting locations and established some VCITs where violent crime was already decreasing or where other violent crime initiatives were under way. ATF also placed some VCITs in areas where it did not have agreements with local officials to provide the local crime data it needed to monitor progress and evaluate the impact of the pilot VCITs on violent crime.
When selecting the initial VCIT cities, ATF and ODAG officials chose locations without seeking input from the ATF Field Division personnel who were most familiar with local conditions. ODAG officials described site selection as a collaborative process with ATF that was based on a number of different statistics from an analysis prepared by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. According to a former ATF Headquarters official, ATF Headquarters officials informed Special Agents in Charge that ODAG had selected their cities for VCITs based on city-wide homicide rates. He also said that after learning their locations had been selected, many of the Special Agents in Charge expressed concerns.
One of the VCIT Coordinators we interviewed during our site visits told us that the crime rate in that target area was not significant enough to warrant a VCIT. Our analysis of ATF’s data confirmed that violent crime had been decreasing at some of the locations ATF chose for VCIT pilot sites. At three of the seven VCIT pilot sites for which ATF was able to provide target area data, homicides committed with firearms were decreasing before VCITs were established. Similarly, two of the six target areas for which ATF was able to provide data on violent firearms crime had experienced a decrease prior to local VCIT operations. See Figure 4. The data ATF provided and our analysis of it will be discussed more fully later in this report.
ATF also selected target areas for VCITs where local law enforcement agencies were already targeting violent firearm crime. In interviews and responses to our survey, we found that a local law enforcement agency already had a program similar to the VCIT initiative in place in three VCIT cities.
Moreover, although local crime data were essential to evaluate the effectiveness of the VCIT pilot, ATF did not establish agreements to secure these data from local police for each of the pilot sites. As a result, ATF did not have such data for the VCIT target areas in 8 of the 15 pilot cities. Consequently, ATF was unable to determine the impact of local operations on violent firearms crime overall or on homicides committed with firearms for half of the pilot VCITs. VCITs in those eight cities also lacked data to monitor changes in the amount and type of target area crime. The ATF Assistant Director for Field Operations acknowledged the importance of local support and stated that ATF would not establish a new VCIT where there is no commitment from the local police department to share data and other types of law enforcement support.
We found that ATF did not provide sufficient direction and oversight to its Field Divisions to ensure that local VCITs implemented the key elements of the initiative. ATF officials did not develop policies and procedures for incorporating the five key elements that differentiated VCIT from routine ATF law enforcement operations. ATF also did not provide resource materials or training on implementing the VCIT Strategy for ATF Field Division staff or personnel from federal or local partner agencies. In addition, ATF did not establish procedures for periodically reviewing local VCIT operations. However, in August 2005 after the pilot period, ATF Headquarters personnel met with VCIT Coordinators to discuss local operations, and in January 2006 ATF published a Best Practices report, which stated that “this analysis will be used to strengthen future VCIT deployments.” However, ATF did not provide specific policies or guidance for implementing the identified practices.
ATF Headquarters officials told us that the staff in the Firearms Programs Division who developed the VCIT initiative did not have the authority to oversee the Field Divisions’ operations, which include local VCIT operations. In response to our survey, 17 of 19 VCIT Coordinators (89 percent) stated that the VCIT Program Manager in the Firearms Programs Division was their primary point of contact for VCIT. However, current and former ATF Headquarters officials told us that the VCIT Program Manager had no direct control over how Field Divisions implemented the VCITs.23 The Chief of the Firearms Programs Division confirmed that his division cannot direct how VCITs operate. The VCIT Program Manager also stated that he did not have the authority to direct changes in local VCIT operations. Rather, he stated that his role was to report VCIT performance figures, such as arrests and homicide statistics, and present program recommendations to other ATF Headquarters officials.
Further, the ATF Field Operations management staff who have the authority and responsibility to oversee the Field Divisions’ operations did not provide operational guidance regarding how the VCIT Strategy should be implemented. A Field Management Staff official told us that he receives inquiries from VCIT Coordinators regarding VCIT operations, but can only refer them to other ATF personnel, such as VCIT Coordinators who have had similar concerns. Furthermore, an Assistant Special Agent in Charge of a Field Division stated he had been told by the Assistant Director of the Field Operations Division that with respect to VCIT implementation, he could reduce violent crime anyway he saw fit. In effect, the ATF Field Division staff who participated in the pilot VCIT initiative understood that they could develop their own strategies to combat violent crime.
All VCIT Coordinators we interviewed told us that ATF Headquarters officials left it to ATF Field Division managers to develop their local VCIT strategies. ATF Field Division managers stated that they received no direction regarding specific elements of the VCIT Strategy that were to be incorporated into the local VCIT strategies. Consequently, we found that local VCIT activities were often a continuation of law enforcement activities that were under way before VCIT was implemented and that the roles of many Special Agents essentially did not change when they were assigned to VCITs. In two of the cities we visited, ATF Field Division managers and Special Agents told us that their VCITs’ activities were indistinguishable from their Field Divisions’ previous routine operations. One Special Agent stated, “As far as I know, they just gave [Project Safe Neighborhoods] a new name.” Another Special Agent stated, “Really the only change is geography, but essentially I’m doing the same thing.” One Assistant Special Agent in Charge told us, “This is what we were doing before VCIT.”24
In two of the five cities we visited, we spoke with ATF Special Agents assigned to VCITs who could not distinguish between their current role on a VCIT and their responsibilities before the implementation of VCITs in their cities. In fact, one ATF Special Agent did not know what the acronym “VCIT” stood for. Another ATF Special Agent we interviewed did not know that he had been assigned to the initiative. He asked the OIG review team what the initiative was and whether participation in the program would benefit his operations.25
The inability of numerous Special Agents to differentiate routine activities from VCIT activities was due, in part, to the reassignment to VCITs of entire existing Special Agent groups.26 We found that some ATF field offices simply renamed existing agent groups “VCIT,” which made it difficult for personnel to differentiate VCIT operations from other ATF law enforcement activities. In one city we visited, Special Agents and local law enforcement officers assigned to a VCIT explained that they had been part of an earlier “ATF task force” that was given the VCIT moniker, but there was no change in their roles or duties. In a second city, the Assistant Special Agent in Charge told us that two pre-existing enforcement initiatives, one of which had started 3 years prior to our site visit, now were considered part of VCIT. The Special Agent in Charge’s description of VCIT as it operated in that city was identical to the description of the pre-existing enforcement initiatives rather than to the VCIT strategy.
ATF has not developed an adequate evaluation plan to determine the effectiveness of the VCIT initiative. Although ATF’s VCIT Strategy stated the importance of determining the effectiveness of the initiative and its impact on homicides and all violent crimes committed with firearms, ATF Headquarters officials did not implement a program-wide evaluation plan for the VCIT initiative that would accomplish this objective. We found that ATF collected standard measures of law enforcement activity – such as arrests – that, alone, were not adequate to evaluate the implementation or effectiveness of a specific strategy such as VCIT. ATF did not collect and analyze data program-wide to identify and correct problems in implementing VCIT’s key elements and evaluating their effectiveness:
ATF Headquarters officials recognized the importance of conducting local evaluations of VCIT operations in each city, but they did not provide Field Divisions with guidance on how to conduct such evaluations. When we examined the local evaluations that the VCIT Coordinators submitted to ATF Headquarters, we found that they described in narrative fashion local lessons learned. Few reports provided quantitative or qualitative data documenting the effectiveness of VCIT activities.
For example, reports did not provide data on the characteristics (e.g., criminal histories) of those arrested by VCITs or the investigative technologies used in each VCIT investigation. None of the reports documented the number of VCIT arrestees who were prosecuted, the court system in which they were prosecuted, or the length of the sentences handed down for those who were convicted. Moreover, the reports did not contain quantitative or qualitative assessments of the implementation of the VCIT initiative’s other key elements, such as the use of community information in investigations or other federal and local resources committed to the initiative. If the local VCITs had collected that data, they could have determined whether they were using resources effectively and arresting the worst violent offenders in their target areas. Then it would be possible to conduct impact studies to determine if performance of the key elements was having the desired effect on reducing homicide and other firearm crimes.
Our analysis of ATF’s data on homicides committed with firearms did not support ATF’s claim that the VCIT initiative was successful. (See Appendix III for the form ATF uses to compile and analyze VCIT data.) The Violent Crime Impact Teams: Best Practices report ATF issued in January 2006 compared the number of homicides committed with firearms before and after the VCIT implementation in the 15 pilot cities. ATF reported that the pilot program was a success because the number of homicides committed with firearms decreased in 13 of the 15 pilot cities compared with the number of homicides in the same 6-month period of the preceding year. The following table, Table 5, appears on page 6 of ATF’s January 2006 report.
Table 5: Homicides Committed with Firearms
Our analysis of the data in the ATF report does not support this conclusion. We found ATF based its analysis and conclusions on insufficient data and faulty comparisons. ATF inappropriately used city-wide data, rather than target area data, for 8 of the 15 VCITs and therefore could not demonstrate the impact of the VCIT on homicides committed with firearms for half of the target areas. The VCIT Program Manager said that ATF used city-wide data because it did not have access to target area crime data for those eight cities. However, city-wide data are not a valid measure for VCITs that did not have entire cities as their target areas. Moreover, the number of homicides committed with firearms in some of the target areas where ATF implemented VCITs was relatively small during both 6-month periods. Therefore, percentage decreases reported by ATF appear dramatic but actually reflect small changes in the number of homicides committed with firearms, making it difficult to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of the VCIT initiative. For example, ATF reported that in Albuquerque, homicides committed with firearms in the target area decreased by 50 percent – from 4 between June and November 2003 to 2 during the same period in 2004. In addition, ATF’s use of data from only two points in time, 2003 and 2004, was not consistent with accepted standards for trend analysis.27
Table 6 presents the results of our analysis of ATF data on target area homicides committed with firearms in the seven VCIT cities for which ATF provided target area data. To analyze trends for these seven cities, we added data on total homicides committed with firearms for the same 6-month period from 2002, 2003, and 2004. One of the seven cities, Columbus, showed no change; another, Los Angeles, showed an increase. Three other cities – Albuquerque, Chattanooga, and Tampa – showed a downward trend beginning in 2002 before the VCITs were implemented, a trend that continued during the pilot period. Only two cities, Greensboro and Philadelphia, showed an increase from 2002 to 2003 that was followed by a decrease during the pilot VCIT period.28
Table 6: Homicides Committed with Firearms in Target Areas
We believe that a better measure of the effectiveness of the VCIT initiative would have been to compare the number of violent firearms crimes (not homicides only) in the VCIT target areas for the same time periods before and after the initiative was implemented. First, the change in the number of violent firearms crimes is a standard ATF agency-wide performance measure. Second, the number of violent firearms crimes in the VCIT target areas is a larger number, ranging from 107 to 4,056, making analyses of these data more reliable. Furthermore, according to its VCIT Strategy, ATF intended to measure the effectiveness of VCITs not only by the number of homicides committed with firearms, but also by the total number of homicides, the number of violent crimes, and the number of violent firearms crimes.29
Our analysis of the number of violent crimes involving firearms in VCIT target areas does not show that the VCITs were successful in reducing violent firearms crime, a primary goal of the VCIT initiative. Table 7 depicts our analysis of VCIT’s performance based on data ATF provided on violent crimes committed with firearms in six VCIT cities. Only two of the six, Tampa and Greensboro, experienced a positive impact on violent firearms crimes in their target areas. Before VCIT implementation, Tampa experienced a decrease in violent firearms crimes from 278 in 2002 to 257 in 2003, followed by a sharper decrease to 107 in 2004 after VCIT implementation. Greensboro experienced an increase in violent crimes committed with firearms before VCIT implementation, followed by a slight decrease after implementation. Los Angeles showed a decrease that began before VCIT was implemented and continued after implementation, and Chattanooga showed a decrease prior to VCIT implementation. In two cities, Albuquerque and Philadelphia, violent firearms crime increased after VCIT was implemented. A comparison of high-crime areas with VCITs and similar high-crime areas without VCITs would constitute a stronger evaluation methodology.30
Table 7: Violent Crimes Committed with Firearms in Target Areas
In addition, during our fieldwork, several ATF officials told us that they were not prepared to say that the decreases in homicides in VCIT cities were directly attributable to VCIT operations. In sum, while ATF officials recognized the importance of evaluating the VCIT initiative in the VCIT Strategy, they did not develop an adequate evaluation plan to support claims of success.
Although we believe ATF developed sound objectives for the VCIT Strategy to combat violent firearms crime, ATF did not implement that Strategy. This was primarily due to ATF’s inconsistent direction to and oversight of its Field Divisions on adapting the VCIT Strategy to local operations. Most VCITs inconsistently incorporated the key elements that were to differentiate the VCIT initiative from ATF’s day-to-day enforcement operations. Further, ATF did not develop an adequate evaluation strategy to measure the performance or impact of the VCIT initiative, and ATF’s analysis of the data it collected does not support its claims of success. As a result, although the Strategy on paper appears to be a reasonable and effective approach, after 24 months of operations and the allocation of more than $35 million in reprogrammed funds, general operating funds, and funds appropriated for VCIT, ATF cannot definitively show whether the VCIT initiative successfully reduced firearms crime in areas with high levels of violent crime.
For FY 2006, ATF received $20 million to continue and expand the VCIT initiative. To maximize the use of these funds and to inform future funding decisions, we believe that ATF should implement the VCIT initiative consistent with its VCIT Strategy and in a manner that will allow ATF to determine whether the Strategy is effective in reducing violent firearm crime in specific areas. To accomplish this, we recommend that ATF:
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