EAST ST. LOUIS — U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Springfield, on Tuesday urged law enforcement agencies to use resources available to trace guns recovered after crimes.
Durbin said free services provided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allow detectives to trace guns from their manufacturer to their first retail purchaser, providing information that can help generate leads in ongoing investigations and, when all guns in an area are traced, help identify broader trends in firearms trafficking.
"Crime gun tracing is one of the most basic and powerful tools available to law enforcement as they investigate violent crimes, yet less than half of Illinois law enforcement agencies and only one-third across the nation currently use the ATF's service, called 'eTrace,'" Durbin said during a news conference.
Last month, Durbin introduced the Crime Gun Tracing Act, which encourages law enforcement officials to report every gun they recover that was used in a crime to the National Tracing Center.
Durbin said the bill would require every agency that applies for COPS grants or federal money to be asked how many guns they recovered in the last year, how many of them were submitted to the ATF to be traced, and the reason why any recovered guns were not submitted.
COPS grants are given to police departments across the country for a variety of community policing efforts.
"COPS grants are very popular and there is fierce competition. We can't provide enough money and resources out of Washington for law enforcement. We're hopeful we can still help," Durbin said.
Durbin said unless a gun is seized during the commission of a crime, it will not be traced.
Belleville Police Chief William Clay Sr., who is from Chicago, said he was thinking of the nearly 500 homicide victims in Chicago in 2012 who were predominately African-American males who were killed in three parts of the city. "This (eTrace) will help solve crimes. Those weapons used in the crimes are not being manufactured in the neighborhoods. Where are they coming from?" Clay asked.
He said many of the deaths could have been prevented if the history of the weapon had been traced.
Durbin's bill creates a preference for the awarding of COPS grants to those law enforcement agencies that submitted every recovered crime gun for tracing in the previous year.
It creates exceptions for small police departments that did not recover any. Durbin said eTracing not only allows law enforcement to find out who made the gun, but where it came from, and other details that are crucial to police investigations and solving crimes.
Durbin told his audience that 9 percent of the guns used in crimes in Chicago came from Mississippi. He said a network of people would go to Mississippi, buy the guns and them back to Chicago and sold them in the alleys at night.
U.S. Attorney Steve Wigginton said, "All of law enforcement and law abiding citizens should support this. If a home is broken into and a weapon is stolen, eTrace can find it."
Wigginton said authorized police departments can get real time data and generate intelligence reports that allow officers to focus our limited resources on those areas that are "hot spots."
Wigginton said 255 weapons were traced back to gun stores. "We need all of the tools we can get. The program is free and it operates 24/7. ETrace traces the serial number from the date it was manufactured to the date of the first sale," he said.
"Guns are more valuable than drugs," Wigginton said.
Both Durbin and Wigginton said for the life of them they do not understand why all police agencies are not participating in the eTrace program.
Along with Clay and Wigginton, other law enforcement officials including East St. Louis Police Chief Michael Floore, St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson, Madison County Sheriff Robert Hertz, Brad Wells, Madison County investigator, Cahokia Police Chief James Jones, St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly and Noe Martez, a detective with the Fairmont City Police Department, stood alongside Durbin to show their support for eTrace.
Durbin said the challenge for law enforcement is more difficult in his hometown of East St. Louis than it is in places across the United States, and using eTrace would give law enforcement here a lot more information during their investigations.
Watson said he has used eTracing for several years and it doesn't take much time to use it.
He said prior to eTrace, he was knee deep in paper trying to learn who the manufacturer of a particular weapon was, the history of the weapon and other needed pieces of information to help him and his men in their investigations.
"ETracing has helped us solve crimes," he said.
Kelly said a big challenge law enforcement faces in solving crimes is that investigators do not talk to each other enough. He said it was unfortunate that many agencies still are not using eTracing.
Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.