- The Washington Times - Friday, May 26, 2006

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has been inconsistent in its oversight of teams set up to reduce homicides and other violent crimes nationwide, a report says.

The Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General said the agency has allowed Violent Crime Impact Teams (VCIT) to ignore key elements of the agency’s $35 million anti-violent crime strategy in 20 cities and used “insufficient data” to claim success.

Inspector General Glenn A. Fine, in the report, said rather than targeting specific “hot spots” with a high rate of firearms violence, two VCITs targeted entire cities and one targeted an entire county. He said the VCIT target areas ranged in population from 25,000 to 3 million.

VCIT strategy calls for targeting the “worst-of-the-worst” violent offenders in “hot spots,” building effective working relationships with community leaders and involving representatives from other department law-enforcement components.

ATF Director Carl J. Truscott strongly disputed the Inspector General’s report, saying the program was in its pilot stage when examined by the watchdog agency.

“Following only several months of operation, homicides in VCIT cities declined by more than 8 percent, a rate of decline five times the average of other American cities,” he said in response to the report.

He has said the teams save lives by getting armed criminals off the streets, using technology and human intelligence to identify the worst violent offenders and the criminal organizations that support them.

Since its inception in June 2004, the teams have made nearly 10,000 arrests — working in conjunction with Project Safe Neighborhoods, a strategy geared toward combating gun crime in communities across the country. It is scheduled to expand to 15 new cities by fiscal 2008.

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales also has been a vigorous supporter of the VCIT program, saying during a January press conference to announce the assignment of a team to Atlanta that it would become a “safer city” because of the team’s presence.

But Mr. Fine said ATF’s claim that it had met its goal of reducing violent crime in the targeted cities in six months “was based on insufficient data.” He said ATF inappropriately used citywide data rather than information limited to the target areas.

The number of homicides committed with firearms was lower in 13 of the 15 VCIT pilot cities’ target areas than it was for the same 6-month period the preceding year.

In addition, Mr. Fine said, rather than looking at the number of violent firearms crimes in a VCIT targeted area, ATF examined only the number of homicides committed with firearms, a number that typically was relatively small and not reliable for drawing conclusions about the effectiveness of the VCIT initiative.

Mr. Fine’s office made five recommendations to improve the initiative, including establishing specific operational guidelines for VCIT implementation and developing an evaluation strategy to assess the success of the VCIT program.

ATF said it had already had begun implementing the recommendations.

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