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ATF, Burlington Police announce new partnership to curb gun crime

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Burlington Police Department will be working together in an effort to curb rising gun violence in the Queen City through the creation of the Chittenden County Gun Violence Task Force.

“The Chittenden County Gun Violence Task Force is a team of investigators from several partner agencies who will utilize various investigative techniques and leverage their collective resources, including Crime Gun Intelligence (CGI), to target individuals who are actively involved in, or associated with, firearm-related violence in Chittenden County,” an ATF press release states.

Concerning data out of BPD shows alarming trends that have developed since the “defund the police” movement reduced the department’s budget by about a third beginning in 2020. From 2012 to 2019 there had been about two gun incidents per year. 2020 saw a spike to 12 incidents, and 2021 the number rose to 14. This year Burlington has tallied 23 gun crimes so far, including several violent homicides.

The new Chittenden County Gun Violence Task Force intends to “pool investigatory and technological resources, facilitate information sharing, and create shared strategies around pursuing the perpetrators.”

One highlight of the effort is the utilization of the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN). This is an interstate network of ballistics data that will help investigators “by linking firearm-related crime scenes together and providing actionable investigative leads in a timely manner.”

James Ferguson, special agent in charge of the ATF Boston Field Division, echoed that sentiment about this new resource.

“The deployment of a NIBIN acquisition station to the local ATF field office will aid investigators in quickly linking shooting scenes together, and we believe that the continued use of ATF’s NIBIN Program will make a dramatic impact in the efforts of the task force,” he said.

Acting Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad offered an overview of the different components that go into investigating and dealing with the aftermath of a gun crime.

“We and all our law enforcement partners need to aggregate forensic evidence,” he said. “We need to identify offenders. We need to track trends and develop intelligence. We need to investigate crimes that relate to and sometimes lead to gun violence, like trafficking in narcotics and illegal guns. We need to follow up on gun-violence cases after arrest, and get prosecutor feedback about what’s making strong cases so we can improve what we put forward.”

Murad added that the courts need to do their part in keeping dangerous criminals off the street.

“When we do that, our prosecutorial partners need to expedite and double down on these cases. We need precision policing and precision prosecutions,” he said.

U.S. Attorney Nikolas P. Kerest also made a statement on the importance of this new task force.

“Firearms traffickers, straw purchasers, and those who possess firearms illegally enable violence throughout Vermont,” he said. “The formation of the Chittenden County Gun Violence Task Force represents a strong and proactive step by its participants to increase cooperation and collaboration as all levels of law enforcement work to hold accountable those who illegally traffic, possess, or discharge firearms in Chittenden County and all of Vermont.”

Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George has been on record in support of the defund the police movement. Regarding the new task force, she said, “I am committed to being a part of a joint effort to address the gun violence in our community head-on, and from all angles. This task force will help address the violence in our community and aid in our ability to hold those responsible, accountable.”

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said he welcomes the new collaboration, saying, “I am grateful for the ATF’s partnership in creating this task force, and for the participation of many local, state, and federal agencies in ensuring Burlington’s safety.”

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