Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
Public Affairs Division – Washington, DC
Contact: Public Affairs Division
Combating Gang Violence
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is the principal federal law enforcement agency within the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) dedicated to reducing violent crime. ATF's new Frontline business model is at the forefront of ATF's mission to reduce violent crime. Many ATF agents exclusively investigate violent crime and criminal street gangs. ATF agents regularly participate in intelligence-led Surges targeting violent crime or gangs in locations throughout the United States with other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.
Since its creation as a bureau in 1972, ATF has established itself as a lead federal agency in the investigation of violent gang-related crime. ATF has unique statutory authority over the "tools of the trade" that make gangs a threat to public safety. These tools include guns in the hands of felons and prohibited persons, and weapons and explosives used to further criminal activity. ATF targets and dismantles criminal organizations like Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), the Latin Kings, outlaw motorcycle gangs such as the Hells Angels and the Mongols, national gangs like the Crips and Bloods, Asian gangs, white supremacists, and innumerable neighborhood-based gangs that individually and collectively pose a great threat to the public safety. ATF's anti-gang strategy includes enforcing federal statutes such as the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and the Armed Career Criminal statute.
The mission of ATF's Frontline Branch is to reduce firearms-related gang violence. The Branch, a unit of ATF's Firearms Operations Division, develops and assists field divisions in the implementation of enforcement, prevention, and education programs to disrupt and diminish the violence and related fear and intimidation associated with criminal groups, gangs, and loosely confederated individuals who illegally use firearms as tools of their violent criminal enterprises.
In 2012, ATF referred 1,478 gang-related cases involving 4,092 defendants for prosecution. As of January 2013, 1,303 of those defendants have been convicted. Since fiscal year 2003 (October 2002 to January 2013), ATF referred 15,139 gang-related cases involving 37,765 defendants for prosecution.
ATF recently began implementing the Frontline concept of operations to standardize the way it conducts business and to increase operational effectiveness and accountability in the 25 field divisions and headquarters. In many ways, Frontline simply brings the best practices ATF has used across the country for years into a unified national plan that clearly spells out our goals and objectives.
At the core of Frontline is the development of field division domain assessments. Standards have been established for assessing and understanding an area's violent crime environment. Domain assessments provide a foundation for directing ATF field and headquarters resources annually to maximize the agency's impact. These standards will create accountability top-to-bottom/bottom-to-top through specific requirements and adherence to those standards, and define measurements and applying them on a routine basis in the field and at headquarters.
ATF, in response to gangs and the violent crimes they commit, has partnered with the Regional Information Sharing System to host the ATF GangNet Intelligence Database for the benefit of all law enforcement. This database houses all ATF gang-related information and can compile gang information provided by ATF's law enforcement partners at the local, tribal, state, and federal levels.
- Criminal gangs are active in all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and the American Commonwealths. Approximately 1.4 million gang members belong to more than 33,000 gangs.
- Gangs are responsible for an average of 48 percent of violent crime in most jurisdictions and up to 90 percent in several others, according to the 2011 National Gang Intelligence Center analysis.
- In 2009, the National Gang Threat Assessment reported that 94.3 percent of gang-related homicides involved the use of a firearm.
"Law enforcement officials in 34 jurisdictions report that the majority of gang-related crime is committed with firearm...; Gang members are acquiring high-powered, military-style weapons and equipment, resulting in potentially lethal encounters with law enforcement officers, rival gang members, and innocent bystanders. Law enforcement officials in several regions nationwide report gang members in their jurisdiction are armed with military-style weapons, such as high-caliber semiautomatic rifles, semiautomatic variants of AK-47 assault rifles, grenades, and body armor."
Source: The 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment
ATF uses complex investigative techniques and develops tailored strategies to dismantle armed violent organizations and to target the "worst of the worst" offenders. Frontline Surges, based on analysis of violent crime environments, are a tactic used to respond to areas that are experiencing a disproportionate amount of violent crime or a sharp escalation in violent crime. The Frontline Branch, in coordination with Field Operations and field division management, determines the locations most in need of a surge deployment after reviewing the domain assessments.
- In fiscal year 2012, ATF referred 4,092 gang related defendants for prosecution.
- In fiscal years 2003 through 2012, an average of 13 percent of all ATF cases and 23 percent of all ATF defendants referred for prosecution (15,139 cases and 37,765 defendants) involved allegations of gang-related criminal conduct.
- Many of these cases involve firearms and RICO violations, as well as violations of explosives laws.
The Frontline business model is ATF's overall strategy against violent criminal groups and gangs. ATF's vision is to incorporate best practices and lessons learned into all ATF-led joint law enforcement operations and to further establish ATF as the primary DOJ component addressing violent crime.
ATF has played a significant role in reducing violent crime in the United States:
- Between fiscal years 2003 and 2012, across all of ATF's violent crime programs, ATF recommended 121,079 cases and 179,445 defendants for prosecution.
- Over 61 percent of these defendants are previously convicted felons and 84 percent have prior arrest records.
- Of those recommended for prosecution, 97,735 of the cases resulted in the indictment of 140,124 defendants. Of those, 86,648 cases resulted in the conviction of 118,924 defendants.
- 76,886 defendants were sentenced to an average prison term of 199 months (16.5 years).
- From FY 2003 through FY 2012, ATF recommended prosecution of 16,695 cases and 32,965 defendants for firearms trafficking-related offenses involving an estimated 676,416 weapons.
The external component of Frontline is the Violent Crime Reduction Partnership (VCRP). Through the VCRP, ATF leads the violent crime efforts of law enforcement across the country. The VCRP coordinates and integrates regionally based law enforcement missions, strategies, tactics, and intelligence to effectively prioritize and maximize impact on violent crime. Through the Frontline model, VCRP has served as a catalyst to develop local strategies, vigorously enforcing existing firearms laws, and providing critical firearms enforcement training to law enforcement personnel. ATF has conducted an integrated training program focusing on firearms tracing, trafficking, and enforcement strategies for 3,632 federal, state, and local law enforcement personnel. Through innovative partnerships and instituting effective enforcement strategies, ATF will continue to ensure and protect the safety of the public from violent criminal acts committed by gang members.
For more information on ATF and its programs go to www.atf.gov.