Chicago Police and Federal Agents to Team Up on Gun Violence

CHICAGO — As a candidate, Donald J. Trump frequently mentioned the shootings that claim hundreds of lives here each year. As a new president, he threatened on Twitter to “send in the Feds!” if the local authorities did not stop the “carnage.” Five months later, Mr. Trump had another message about the city, as officials here announced a program that deploys more federal agents to address the city’s gun crime.

“Crime and killings in Chicago have reached such epidemic proportions that I am sending in Federal help,” Mr. Trump wrote Friday morning on Twitter.

His post preceded an official announcement on Friday of the Chicago Crime Gun Strike Force, comprising agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as well as prosecutors, Chicago police officers and Illinois state troopers. The team will include about 20 A.T.F. agents and about 20 members of the Chicago Police Department, and it was described by the federal authorities as the first permanent unit of its kind in the country.

“Their sole responsibility will be to fight gun crime in the city of Chicago,” said Special Agent Tim Jones of the A.T.F., the team’s commander. “Our hope is that with more agents here, there will be more cases recommended for prosecution.”

Yet some in Chicago — where more than 760 people were killed last year, the most of any American city — were skeptical about how much influence a few dozen more investigators would have.

Chicago has a tense relationship with the president. Last year, a large protest scuttled Mr. Trump’s plans for a campaign rally in the city, where his surname is emblazoned on a downtown skyscraper. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has frequently criticized the president’s policies, while also saying at times that he would welcome more federal law enforcement.

“Apparently this morning the president saw fit to take a brief break from attacking journalists on Twitter to attack one particular major U.S. city instead,” said a spokesman for Mr. Emanuel, Adam Collins. “If the president was as interested in taking action on public safety as he is in tweeting about it, we would have seen these resources months ago.”

Chicago officials have long advocated stricter gun laws as a way to reduce shootings. A White House spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, speaking during an off-air briefing on Friday, was asked if part of the increase in crime was part of a larger “gun control problem” that could be dealt with through a change in firearms laws.

“I think that the problem there, pretty clearly, it’s a crime problem,” she said. “I think that crime is probably driven more by morality than anything else. So I think this is a law enforcement issue.”

But some here suggested that the president’s efforts were unlikely to yield significant results. Representative Danny K. Davis, Democrat of Illinois, said Mr. Trump should be increasing funding for social service programs, and cautioned, “I don’t think we’re going to be able to police ourselves out of the violence.”

“The way you’d really do that is change people’s attitudes, change their minds, change the approach to life,” said Mr. Davis, whose teenage grandson was shot and killed in Chicago last year. “I don’t think the A.T.F. will do much in terms of the violence or the crime.”

Shari Runner, the president of the Chicago Urban League, said the A.T.F. collaboration could be helpful, even though she said she had doubts about the president’s motives.

If it “reduces the amount of guns flowing into the city, I’m all for it; let’s do it,” Ms. Runner said. “But it’s not because the president all of a sudden decided he was going to send the feds in. That’s a lot of hype and hyperbole.”

In February, the A.T.F. announced it would send more agents to Chicago. This week, police officials said the bureau was stationing a mobile ballistics lab in the city for part of the summer, when violence here traditionally peaks. But the practical effect remains unclear.

“Six months ago, we made it clear that we would welcome additional federal support, and six months later, we appreciate the 20 new A.T.F. agents that are now arriving,” Mr. Collins said. “But the progress C.P.D. has made this year has happened without any of the new resources from the federal government we requested.”

Through Friday, 1,360 shootings had been reported in the city, about 200 fewer than during the same period in 2016. The number of criminal homicides — 320 so far in 2017, compared with 322 at this point last year — has hardly changed.

The A.T.F. and other federal law enforcement agencies already have large field offices in Chicago and have frequently partnered with the local police on investigations. Chicago police officials said the new unit would focus on preventing illegally possessed guns from flowing through the city and on targeting people repeatedly involved in gun crimes, both of which have long been cited as drivers of the violence. The unit is also intended to team up front-line law enforcement officers with state and federal prosecutors.

Anthony Riccio, the chief of the Police Department’s Bureau of Organized Crime, said the new team would “significantly help our efforts to trace and stop the flow of illegal guns,” including over the Independence Day weekend, often one of the city’s most violent.

But police leaders also acknowledged the unit’s limitations. Kevin Navarro, Chicago’s first deputy police superintendent, said that “preventing crime and reducing gun violence won’t be solved by one strategy.”

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