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Aug. 20, 2021

Regional Crime Gun Processing Protocols: What they are and what they’re not

Regional Crime Gun Processing Protocols: What they are and what they’re not

Regional Crime Gun Processing Protocols: What they are and what they’re not

What can we do about gun violence?

The question itself often generates more questions and contentious debate than feasible solutions.

Any public policy discussion involving the word "gun" raises a number of complicated issues. I make no judgment here either way - that is just the way it is.

However, what does seem to be a universally shared perspective on the issue of gun violence is the belief that a criminal who uses a firearm to harm another person must be brought to justice.

Justice requires evidence - evidence requires investigation -investigations require information.

I submit this observation: Criminals today frequently move between cities, states, and even international borders and as they do, evidence of their crimes gets scattered along the way. 

Many criminals are highly mobile today. They should not escape detection because they crisscross police jurisdictions leaving pieces of evidence and clues scattered across the region. Therefore, a common-sense response would call for the creation of a regionally shared crime gun processing protocol.

So just what are Regional Crime Gun Processing Protocols and what are they not?

A Regional Crime Gun Processing Protocol (The Protocol), is essentially an agreement to adhere to a jointly shared policy directing a rapid, comprehensive, and evidence-led response to crimes involving firearms.

The Protocol involves the execution of a set of pre-defined investigative and forensic procedures. For example, they include the tracing of all recovered crime guns through ATF’s eTrace system, the processing of ballistics evidence, and test-fired samples through ATF’s National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN),  as well as DNA swabbing, latent fingerprint analysis, and visual examinations for trace evidence.

The procedures are designed to generate actionable intelligence from the firearms and related evidence encountered during criminal investigations, and process and disseminate it timely to those who need it.

The Protocol should be implemented within a region where armed criminals are frequently moving through various jurisdictions. For example, one could include all the cities within 20 miles of a certain 50 mile stretch of interstate highway.

The Protocol is the product of a collaborative process undertaken by an interdependent and cross-jurisdictional team made up of police, forensic personnel, and prosecutors who think and act together with an external focus - protecting the public they serve.

The intent of the team is to identify armed and violent criminals as fast as possible in order to prevent them from doing harm. For the victims - the team seeks justice. For the loved ones left behind - the team seeks resolution. For the communities they serve – the team seeks to restore peace.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) adopted a resolution in support of Regional Crime Gun Processing Protocols almost a decade ago stating that: “The IACP views regionally applied crime gun and evidence processing protocols as a best practice for the investigation of firearm-related crimes and encourages law enforcement officials, prosecuting attorneys, and forensic experts to collaborate on the design of mutually agreeable protocols best suited for their region.”

In Summary, a Regional Crime Gun Processing Protocol:

It is not – something that one stakeholder partner dictates to the other stakeholder partners.

It is not – confined to a particular jurisdiction’s boundaries -  and it doesn’t have to stop at the city or state line.

It is not – a “fair-weather” thing - something you do sometimes - depending upon the level of interest in the case or the initiative of a particular individual.

It is not – an ad-hoc off-the-cuff process to be executed one way in one location today and another way in another location tomorrow.

It is, however, a better way to begin investigating gun crime today in order to stop armed criminals tomorrow, and just like a chain, it's only as strong as its weakest link or partner.


Pete Gagliardi