Given the highly mobile nature of today’s population and the ready availability of technology tools, solving gun crime has to become more strategic in nature. Where once, solving a gun-related crime might have been something seen as a local issue, today those same incidents can have area-wide, state or even regional implications.
We spoke with Pete Gagliardi, 30-year law enforcement veteran, firearms expert and author of The 13 Critical Tasks: An Inside-Out Approach to Solving More Gun Crime, to learn more about what area justice leaders can do to become more effective at solving gun crimes in their area.
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]
Justice Clearinghouse [JCH]: First, let me start with this question, purely from an outsider’s perspective: why wouldn’t a city or a county or a regional area, why wouldn’t they make gun crime a priority.
Pete Gagliardi: A couple of reasons: I think it’s an issue of awareness, some people just don’t realize it and once you lay it out this way, they go, “Aha!” It’s their “aha moment.”
Some people think this is been done already. Some folks think, “well, you [investigate gun/shooting incidents] sometimes,” and “you don’t do it other times” and they don’t understand how the seemingly insignificant, somebody target shooting a stop sign for example, that there may be information surrounding that incident, like a license plate on a car. Or some woman up on the third-floor apartment, who always looks onto the street below because she’s handicapped, might’ve seen somebody when the cops drove up to investigate the stop sign shooting. The woman opens up the window and says, “It’s those kids that live in that red house two doors down, they’re always raising hell out here.”
Well, what happens when a month, six months, two years later, a murder happens and it links back that evidence from the murder, links to that stop sign shooting. Now the police know that the same gun did both crimes, they know that the women in the fourth floor said it’s those kids in the red house. Well, know they’ve got a place to start, they have someone to go knock on their door and speak to, because on the murder side, they have no suspects, they don’t have any information to move forward.
It really is a question of education, awareness and that’s what we’ve been trying to do, that’s what I’ve been trying to do probably since 2005. And I can tell you how we got into this. When I worked at Forensic Technology, we saw that some of the clients that we had did a really good job with our technology, and solved a lot of crimes. But some of our clients were terrible. We wanted to know what was it that made some folks so good and some folks so poor.
So, we brought together some academics from Harvard University and Northeastern University in Boston. We brought together some people from law enforcement, firearms experts, and police and we sat down and we found that the successful people were doing 13 things in common: 13 critical tasks. And the people that were not very successful were hardly doing any of that stuff and if they did, they did it once in a while, on an ad hoc basis, they weren’t consistent.
That’s why we started a road show, and we would go do seminars and after a while, the PowerPoints got on unwieldy. So, someone suggested that I write a book … and so, I wrote a book and put all the information in the book because it was too big for the PowerPoint.
There have been 11, 355 gun-related incidents
in the first 72 days of 2017.
Gun Violence Archive.org
But really, we have started to see a change because it’s really a new concept called crime gun intelligence where we look at the inside and the outside information, we leverage that with ShotSpotter, for example, the acoustic detection information, we leverage it with cell phone information but we really make this an intelligence-led operation, the issue of investigating crimes involving firearms.
JCH: And it seems that’s a more reliable way, than let’s say solely relying on confidential informants.
Pete: Absolutely! And not only that, in terms of making these things boxes you check in the process: I’ve done a, I’ve done b, I’ve done c.
It’s been up to the detectives whether they ask for a particular test. When I was an ATF agent, it was up to me, if I wanted a particular lab test run, and I did all the time because I was a forensic guy when I first started my law enforcement life. But other people chose not to and that was the way it was.[But there’s a story that illustrates why collecting this information is so important.] There was a woman called Hazel Love. She was a 68-year-old woman who lived in Georgia, and went to Alabama to visit some old friends. While she was staying there for a few days, there was a home invasion. Bad guys crash into the house and what she didn’t know was that the young people living in that house were engaged in a drug business and their adversaries came to rob them. During the robbery, gunfire happened and Hazel Love was the only one struck and killed: a totally innocent woman. The case went cold. The sheriff’s office had no leads and it stayed cold for six years.
During the six years, police in a town about 25 miles away had served the search warrant on two convicted felons who were unlawfully in possession of firearms. They arrested them and put the firearms in the evidence vault and [the firearms] sat there for a couple of years.
During all this time, police in a third city, Birmingham, Alabama, (so three cities are involved now, each about 25 miles apart, so within a 50-mile radius) are getting telephone calls about a gun in Adamsville that was taken from a convicted felon who might’ve been used in a murder in Birmingham. But they can’t find any case that matches the detailed description that they got and they kept getting these calls over a period of time and became frustrated. There must be something to this but it can’t be here.
So, one of the detectives in Birmingham took it upon himself to get the evidence 25 miles away in Adamsville, sitting in that evidence vault and put it in the Birmingham NIBIN system … and lo and behold it links to the murder of Hazel Love in McCalla, Alabama, 50 miles away.
Now, the police and the sheriff’s office investigating Hazel Love’s murder jumped right on this new evidence, even though it was 6 years old, and they started with two suspects, and lo and behold one of them gives up and says, “Yes, we did the crime, we shot the old lady.”
This is the point is: Do we leave that to the whim and caprice of an individual? Or do we put a standard operating procedure in place so that the police in Birmingham know that if they’re investigating a murder, and a gun is found in Adamsville 25 miles away, or in McCalla, Alabama, 50 miles away, that the police there are going to do the same thing and handle that gun the same way and extract the information from inside and outside of it, they’ll all doing it the same way.
JCH: That was exactly what I was going to ask, it sounds like what you’re saying is, that it’s really important for all kinds of agencies to start taking a very long view and to start gathering information and systematizing information and how you do certain things in very specific ways so that it may not pay off today, but it could pay off two years, or three years down the line. It sounds like that’s what you’re advocating.
Pete: Exactly! And in 2012, the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s firearms committee wrote a resolution about the importance of establishing regional crime gun protocols, and crime gun processing protocols, and it was adopted by the entire International Association of Chiefs of Police.
That resolution asked for police, forensics folks, and prosecutors to get together and collaborate on putting these comprehensive processes in place for the geographical region that crime is associated in.
In other words, if you think about it: if you live in city A, but you live right next door to city B, C, D, E, and you know that criminals are always crossing back to from one city to the other in their domestic activities and their criminal activities so they might be doing a crime in city A, but they also might be doing a crime in city B, C, D or E. That’s what I call the affected crime region and sometimes [the criminals] could go across state lines, depending on the highways and byways that connect them.
So, my point is that you need to put these processes, standard operating procedures for the collection analysis of this information and investigation and sharing in the place within the region.
No official figure exists but there are thought to be about 300 million firearms in the US,
held by about a third of the population.
That is nearly enough guns for every man, woman, and child in the country.
BBC.com, Jan 2016
JCH: When you’re talking about making gun crime a priority, how do you get so many police chiefs and ATF’s and prosecutors from different, sometimes not just different cities, sometimes from different states … How do you get everybody to cooperate? How do you build that coalition of agreement?
Pete: It’s through communication and awareness: what we’re trying to do here. It’s also through “small-P” policy and through “big-P” policy.
What I mean by “big-P” policy is laws and legislation. New Jersey has a law that any police department within the state of New Jersey that takes a gun into custody must do certain things with it. When that law was passed about three or four years ago, the state police commissioner and the attorney general were tasked by law to put the processes in place to do that. [At that point,] I reached out to them and I’ve been working with them for four years now, [putting] processes in place so when a gun comes into the state police lab, all this information is extracted: every gun, every time. Why? Because big-P policy law came in place and said that there must be protocols and we’ve identified the protocols.
Then, there’s “small-P” policy, like [what we did] at the International Chiefs of Police, when we adopted a resolution from crime gun protocols. We hope that every police chief would put these protocols in place, one police department at a time.
So, for example, in New Jersey, I’m doing one of my workshops and I’m talking about to a hundred police, forensic people and prosecutors and I’m talking about the fact that NIBIN can connect a piece of evidence, not only within the plot of evidence in a particular location but across the United States as well. It’s automatic for the local vicinity that you’re in, but it’s not automatic beyond that right now.
So, at the break, a state police detective comes up to me and says, “We got a case involving a murder of a college student. It’s big all over the press. This kid was a golden kid, never involved in any trouble. He’s murdered and we have no clues. The only thing I can tell you that there is a transient, a tent city, not far from where this happened.”
So, I said, “Look pal, if I were you, I’d go to my lab as soon as you get out of here and tell them to extend the correlation in NIBIN and extend it either throughout the region, throughout the Northeast United States or beyond.” I said, “Keep working out in concentric circles until you’ve gone through the whole United States.” They did that, and that piece of evidence from the murder of that college student in Orange, New Jersey linked to a piece of evidence in Seattle, Washington on a double homicide about a month before.
So they called up the cops in Seattle and said, “Hey, what is up with this?” And they said, “We know who did ours, we’re looking for him, he’s a fugitive.”
Well, what do you think happened?
The fugitive in Seattle had now made his way across the United States to the East Coast and was living in a homeless tent city in Orange, New Jersey. [The police] got a search warrant, found the guy’s tent, found his gun, and arrested him. Then Seattle’s antenna is perked up and they do a little more searching and they linked this guy to a fourth murder.
Now, what I’m afraid of, and I keep trying to get somebody interested in this, what did he do between Seattle and Orange, New Jersey? I doubt he got on an airplane and flew. I suspect he drove or hitchhiked or bussed. He didn’t just make it in one hop, I don’t think, it must’ve taken some days. Did he kill anybody else along the way? I think there’s a degree of probability that he did something else and I also know that as you make your way across the central United States, there are a dozen states that don’t even have access to a NIBIN system. Again, those are the things that keep me up at night.
JCH: Why wouldn’t each of these areas not have NIBIN? Is that a funding issue, is that because they haven’t made it a priority, is it they don’t have access? Or is it something else?
Pete: It’s a combination of “all of the above.” Some of it is funding, some of it…well, you know, [it’s the feeling that] “I’m in sleepy New Hampshire, I don’t really have a lot of gun crime.” Wait a minute New Hampshire, you are a source state for Massachusetts, for guns. You have a heroin and opioid problem. We’ve got criminals coming from Boston to Nashua, to Concord New Hampshire and they’re bringing fentanyl and everything else and you know what? [The criminals are] getting money, but they’re also picking up guns while they’re out there and bringing them back, even though New Hampshire doesn’t have a lot of gun crime. They might pull a car over at a traffic stop, seize a gun from some gangbangers in Boston, they’re going to put that gun in their evidence vault.
But they need to test fire it and put it in NIBIN because that gun might’ve been used in homicides in Boston, but yet it was recovered in New Hampshire, or Maine, or Vermont, and none of those three states have a NIBIN system, so how they’re going to [connect the dots]? Are they going to drive to Boston every day with their evidence [to enter it into the NIBIN system]? No. They’re not going to do it.
But somebody needs to think about this and say, “What is the best way to do it?”
JCH: What I like about what you have talked about in the past is that to really make gun crime a priority – to do this well – means investigating every incident. It doesn’t matter if it’s shooting a stop sign, it doesn’t matter if the victim is rich or poor, we have to investigate everything.
Pete: Exactly! And think about this, there’s this big gap of distrust between people of color in the inner cities and the police. Do you think that [the distrust started when] the police shot someone? No, I suspect it started way before that when people said, “I called the cops to investigate the murder of my son, nobody ever gets back to me, it never gets solved, I don’t get any closure.”
But think about it if they did turn over every stone, if they did process every gun, every time? Think about what that would do to restore faith and confidence in the police. That everyone was getting the same shot at justice.
JCH: In a lot of ways, what you’re describing is a relationship. So just like if you have a friend and they say they’re going to do something and they show up every time, you trust that person. What you’re talking about is a relationship [between law enforcement and the community] that’s built over time, not just when the gun shooting happens, but when there’s a loud party, when things happen, or when somebody’s shooting at that stop sign. It’s a relationship that the police build with the community.
Pete: Your observation is important for a couple of reasons and one is, not only are you right, but it’s nothing magical. It’s stuff that we all know.
It’s about people and we know how to deal with people or we should know how to deal with people. But because it’s a gun crime, you might have to get out at 2 o’clock in the morning and pick some stuff up and package it and send it to a lab. [That means] there needs to be some lab equipment in that lab. [That means] there needs to be a standard operating procedure that somebody sits down and writes, and then is blessed and then communicated across the organization. [In the end,] we’re doing it to bring justice and resolution to loved ones and peace to the neighborhood.
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