Saturday, July 07, 2007

ATF Aids Hunt for Illegal Guns in San Bernardino (Press Enterprise 070307)

BS Ranch Perspective

Before they announced that they were making a regular office here in San Bernardino they went out and cleaned up some of the mean streets of San Bernardino and collected several Guns from some of the Neighborhoods that are rivaled by Gangs and shootings etc etc... I am happy that ATF is here I hope that they will make the difference.

BS Ranch

ATF aids hunt for illegal guns in San Bernardino

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10:00 PM PDT on Tuesday, July 3, 2007
The Press-Enterprise

SAN BERNARDINO - A carload of gang members rolls up to a rival on a street corner. On the other end of town, two parolees get into a fight.

If both incidents end in homicide, chances are there will be a common denominator: the gun tucked under the driver's seat or hidden in a waistband was illegally possessed.

San Bernardino Police Department officials say their officers can't possibly track all the illicitly obtained guns alone. But a team of federal agents trained in weapons investigations will help.

Ten special agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will begin work in San Bernardino this month as part of a nationwide effort that is targeting the cities with the worst gun-violence problems.

The Violent Crime Impact Team will offer money to people who report those who have illegal guns. It also will use cutting-edge technology to log and track the seized weapons, officials announced Tuesday.

At a news conference attended by San Bernardino Mayor Pat Morris, San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos and Rep. Joe Baca, D- Rialto, federal agents and local police said their collaboration is a step toward reducing assaults, robberies and homicides involving the use of sawed-off shotguns and semiautomatic pistols sold underground.

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Greg Vojtko / The Press-Enterprise
San Bernardino Mayor Pat Morris holds up a handgun during the announcement of the city's partnership with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, part of the agency's nationwide effort that targets cities with the worst gun violence problems.

"They say every gun tells a story," said John Torres, special agent in charge of the ATF's Los Angeles field office. "And through good, old-fashioned gumshoe work, we're going to see what story these guns tell and pursue it."

An example of the team's work can begin with something as simple as a patrol officer's traffic stop, Torres said. The officer may find a handgun and seize it as evidence. Without the ATF's help, the department might not have the resources to do anything more than charge the person with illegal possession of a firearm.

But with access to federal databases that can connect guns to shell casings and projectiles found at crime scenes, Torres said, police might find a murder suspect previously unknown.

"We're going to work smarter and harder," Torres said.

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A collection of firearms was on display.

He said all the city's licensed gun dealers will be investigated to determine whether they are complying with the law.

From 2004, when the ATF launched impact teams in cities such as Baltimore and Los Angeles, through 2006, the program has yielded more than 10,000 arrests and 11,100 recovered firearms, officials said. The program now has operated in 29 U.S. cities, many of which have seen decreases in gun-related homicides during the ATF's presence.

In San Bernardino, the ATF was welcomed enthusiastically. Police Chief Michael Billdt called the partnership an obvious extension of the ongoing collaborations with the California Highway Patrol for extra patrols and with Morris' Operation Phoenix crime-fighting plan.

Billdt said the ATF agents would work with robbery, homicide and narcotics investigators. They will be involved in covert operations in the city's most dangerous and gang-ridden neighborhoods, he added.

Arrests won't be prosecuted only in state court, where convictions can result in sentences served at crowded local prisons that are accessible to friends and family.

As an added deterrent, U.S. attorney's office officials said some defendants would be tried in federal court and subjected to harsher minimum sentences that would send them to facilities out of state.

"We're going to send a message," said George Cardona, acting U.S. attorney in Los Angeles.

Morris demonstrated an action that he said he hopes the program can wipe out. Choosing from a table of weapons that had been seized by police, Morris lifted a .22-caliber handgun and tucked it into his waistband -- as a gang banger would, he said. He said 42 of the 46 slayings that police classified as murders in 2006 were committed with guns.

"These guns are the cancer of America's urban society," Morris said.

They also have caused close calls for Baca's family, the congressman said Tuesday. Several months ago, his wife was startled by bullets fired into the Rialto home directly next door, wounding a man inside.

The congressman said the story illustrates that gun violence doesn't just affect the gang members and criminals who target each other. After the incident, his wife wanted, he said, but she changed her mind when she realized that police were dealing with it.

REWARD offered

$500: The sum offered for information leading to the arrest of people who illegally possess firearms.

Call: 800-ATF-GUNS (283-4867). Tipsters may remain anonymous.

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