Establishing and Sustaining Crime Gun Intelligence Stakeholder Groups

A critical component toward advancing Crime Gun Intelligence (CGI) strategies is the formation of true collaborative partnerships among the diverse stakeholders within a specific Area of Responsibility (AOR) and/or a Regional Shooting Environment (RSE). An RSE can be defined as a geographical area in which the same criminals and/or criminal groups operate within. Depending on the law enforcement jurisdiction, and the geographical/civic boundaries, an AOR may include single or multiple RSEs. Some law enforcement jurisdictions at the federal, state, or county levels may be far reaching enough that they have multiple RSEs within their AOR, which touch upon multiple law enforcement jurisdictions and require the formation of partnerships to effectively manage. For example, consider an AOR from an ATF Field Division perspective or from the perspective of a state or county law enforcement organization. It is easy to see how they could have multiple RSE’s that are wide in scope and may cross over into other counties or states. These AORs will have multiple RSEs (e.g. hot spots/pockets) within them shaped in irregular formations, which are often outlined by factors such as local highways, interstate highways, as well as other land masses. Of course, some urban jurisdictions are large enough that they too may contain multiple RSE’s in them as well. Each of violent crime environs in each RSE could be slightly different depending on the criminals or criminal groups within them. It is therefore vital to a CGI program that partnerships among all law enforcement agencies that operate within each RSE are prioritized to ensure that agencies can collaborate in a manner that leverages each other’s people, processes, and technology. The purpose of this primer is to highlight ways in which leaders can pull together the disparate stakeholders that are critical to a well-functioning CGI capability in order to exchange ideas and resources effectively and efficiently to tackle violent crime problems.

All CGI AOR/RSEs have different stakeholders to consider. While primarily members of the law enforcement community, CGI stakeholders come from agencies that are dissimilar in organizational structure from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Of equal importance to consider, is the familiarity or experience level that a particular stakeholder or stakeholder group has as it relates to advancing the core elements of crime gun intelligence: NIBIN information, eTrace data, and local intelligence. The recent publication of the Crime Gun Intelligence – Disrupting the Shooting Cycle Best Practices for implementing successful crime gun intelligence programs guide is a handbook that was desperately needed for law enforcement members to understand the best practices that surround the development of an effective crime gun intelligence program. It was the first governmental document, more specifically, from the ATF, that outlines that the start of the crime gun intelligence process begins with the collection of ballistic evidence and submission to a laboratory or NIBIN site. It went further by delineating how effective crime gun intelligence programs emphasize comprehensiveness and timeliness as it relates to ballistic screening, tracing firearms, and acting upon investigative leads. This primer is an accompaniment to that earlier guide. It focuses on the vital importance of agency partnerships, and how they are crucial for advancing a crime gun intelligence capability and/or strategy committed to the timely processing of ballistic evidence from submission to investigative follow up.

This primer seeks to describe the importance of creating a shared purpose among a diverse CGI stakeholder group that can engender communication, collaboration and coordination across the RSEs. Second, it is designed to offer a checklist for senior level policy advocates to utilize, in whole or in part, when establishing or further sustaining a CGI stakeholder capability.

Embracing a “shared purpose” to advance CGI strategies

What makes a CGI capability both advantageous to combating violent crime as well as challenging to establish on the front end and sustain on the back end, is actually the same thing – a triumvirate of interdependent stakeholders (see figure 1). The entities that need to contribute to the CGI paradigm are diverse in their nature, their mission, and their make-up. It is this diversity that is an overall strength to a gun violence program, yet it can also be a significant challenge in terms of harnessing the disparate entities. A constructive CGI capability requires participation from police commanders and investigators. While also requiring the technical skills and equipment of forensic laboratory personnel, and the legal acumen of state and Federal prosecutors. In other words, the stakeholder groups listed above and delineated in the adjacent illustration must work together to achieve success. To that end, in order to pull these diverse stakeholders together, who have entirely separate missions, it is critical that they find a shared purpose that can align them.

A shared purpose can serve as the end state for CGI stakeholders, and allow them to effectively harness their diverse mission capabilities to achieve both their individual and group goals. The end state, in the most basic form is simple and needs to be stressed and understood by all stakeholders involved. When advancing the practice of crime gun intelligence, every stakeholder must hold the value of collaboration, and its connotation of thinking and acting together, among their diverse partners as central to a shared purpose ofdeveloping and executing a sustainable comprehensive crime gun intelligence strategy for law enforcement that seeks justice, resolution, and peace for all involved.

It is not enough to say that reducing violent crime requires a shared purpose among interagency partners. Instead it is vital that all components of the interagency community within a particular AOR and its RSEs charged with reducing violent crime understand why a shared purpose is fundamental to solidifying partnerships, which in turn result in greater opportunities for communication and collaboration. The reduction of violent crime is no easy task and requires a combination of stakeholders that may not normally communicate or collaborate routinely. For example, it is not often that line level policy personnel, whether it be a detective or the patrol officer responsible for collecting ballistic evidence found on a street have the opportunity or structure to collaborate with the firearm examiner within the ballistic lab, or for that matter investigators or analysts from the ATF. It is no different when you add state or federal level prosecutors to the equation and their familiarity with detectives or state level analysts. An unintended consequence of the specialization that underpins the greater law enforcement community has been the creation of silos that often prevent communication, coordination, and collaboration. While silos at some level or another are detrimental to law enforcement practices, at both the strategic and tactical levels, there is nowhere more noticeable than when they are present in the RSEs within the AOR’s seeking to advance crime gun strategies. In the most basic terms, advancing crime gun intelligence strategies requires many “handoffs and handshakes” among interagency partners who must have trust in one another.

It is therefore critical that the within any particular AOR/RSE, there is a champion(s) that can lead the efforts needed to establish and sustain a shared purpose among the varied interagency community stakeholders that may exist within that jurisdiction. In some AOR’s this will be the ATF SAC, in other areas it will be Chief or Deputy Chief of Police, in other areas it may be a lead prosecutor or the elected leader of a City, County or State. It can often be that skilled professional with that magnanimous personality and well-respected reputation that can inspire and motivate action among the diverse constituents needed to advance crime gun intelligence. There is no cookie cutter solution, since the dynamics of every AOR/RSE are different and the skill levels and interest of participants also vary widely. It is critical that this champion be the one who advances the efforts to develop capabilities aimed at:

  • · Comprehensive collection of ballistic evidence

  • · Timely turnaround of NIBIN leads

  • · Rapid follow-up of NIBIN leads, and

  • · Sharing feedback to all stakeholders

none of this can be achieved without the help of an interagency stakeholder group that values and shares a common purpose. Each stakeholder within a particular AOR has different needs. The detective or Special Agent charged with addressing violent crime in a particular AOR will view ballistic data differently than the ballistic lab technician. And the prosecutor will view this information from a slightly different lens. The three mission areas of these different stakeholders if not understood against the backdrop of the intended end state of a successful crime gun intelligence and violent crime suppression strategy will only serve to complicate things and undermine efforts needed to increase and leverage collaboration. So, it will be their shared purpose that unites and drives them toward a common vision of an end state focused on the most important thing “justice for the victims, resolution for the loved ones impacted by violent crime, and peace to the community.” This simple end state when communicated and shared among the stakeholders offers each of the mission areas described above to continue to advance their specialization. Too often, investigators, lab personnel, and prosecutors hold to a view that their specific function is the end state in itself and miss the much broader importance of justice, resolution, and peace.

The stakeholders needed to advance crime gun intelligence and violent crime suppression strategies come in three distinct yet interdependent forms: the police (patrol, investigators, and analysts), laboratory technicians, and prosecutors. Bringing these diverse entities together in a meaningful way communicate, coordinate, and collaborate towards the shared purpose it the responsibility of a senior level policy advocate. This champion within a particular AOR is charges with harnessing the knowledge, skills, and abilities of these stakeholders into two definite groups. The champion may well be the SAC, or it may be someone within the ATF Field Division or from a partner agency that has the clout to bring people together for a shared purpose. While the mechanics or managing stakeholder engagement is outlined in Task One of The 13 Critical Tasks, in summary it involves formulating two groups of stakeholders. A Strategic Group made up of key senior managers representing the three key perspectives: the police, forensic, and prosecutorial elements. It is critical that senior level representatives from local, county, state, and federal agencies be part of the Strategic Group. This group is responsible for creating a vision, mandating new policy, providing guidance and direction, and requesting resources to advance crime gun intelligence and crime suppression strategies. The second group is the Tactical Group comprised of practitioners is made up of mid-level managers, front line supervisors, and technical subject matter experts. It is the responsibility of the champion discussed above to bring together the Strategic Group and by doing so identify specific individuals from the diverse agencies involved that should make up the Tactical Group.

The Strategic Group is critical because without it, necessary resources, policies, strategies, and protocols cannot be advanced in a manner that considers the vital importance of a shared vision. What follows is a recommended checklist that the senior level policy advocate, the champion, can utilize as an aid to formulate the Strategic Group. Once the Strategic Group is established and begins to meet the nature byproduct will be the formulation of the Tactical Group. The recommended checklist, in whole or in part, can provide the senior level policy advocate steps needed to formulate the important Strategic Group.

Critical steps for formulating key stakeholder groups

Convening stakeholders for any endeavor, particularly when those needing to be involved fall outside the span of control of a single organization charged with advancing an effort, can be a challenging and burdensome. Collaboration and teamwork are not intuitive practices, and best not left to chance when priority initiatives are counting on the input and feedback of diverse entities. As stated above, CGI capabilities require solid partnerships among the triumvirate components within the law enforcement community, open and timely information and intelligence sharing, and cross-jurisdictional leadership buy-in. These key elements, whether in part or in whole, are not learned activities. Each stakeholder member that will be counted on to advance a respective CGI program, will likely have never received training in any of these areas.

To assist with formulating key stakeholder groups for advancing CGI, seven critical steps have been identified. Following these steps can be of great assistance when establishing and sustaining key stakeholder groups. Figure 2 depicts the seven critical steps, and an explanation of each of these steps follows.

1. Ensure Cross-jurisdictional leadership commitment

› Identify senior policy oriented/cross-jurisdictional stakeholders (e.g. police/LE, forensic, prosecutors) in your AOR/RSEs to participate.

o Identification of stakeholders is a continuous process that requires significant attention by the CGI champion(s). Yet, identifying all possible key stakeholders at an early stage of a CGI initiative and involving them in project planning can pay dividends. These dividends come not only in the form of knowledge, resources, and equipment, but can also ease tensions when interjurisdictional challenges arise. Involving senior leadership, representing police, forensic, and prosecutorial partners, can assure that stakeholder discussions will take root in those respective agencies represented. Having senior policy-oriented champions mixed with operational level subject matter experts can increase the speed at which CGI messaging can spread across a particular AOR.

› Prepare an invitation letter to identified policy-oriented stakeholders requesting their presence at a CGI stakeholder meeting. Request they bring with them any forensic, investigative, and intelligence representatives that they rely on within their organizations to combat violent crime.

o Often the success of hosting a CGI key stakeholders group meeting hinges on the planning on the front end. Getting the right people at the initial meeting is vital toward advancing the enterprise. Yet, getting the right people requires effort. Key stakeholders should also be contacted in person or by telephone – after an invitation letter is sent - to explain what the CGI stakeholder group seeks to achieve and why a particular individual is being invited. Neglecting this important component can adversely impact the group, since many key stakeholders if not specifically requested will send designees that may not possess the requisite skill sets, or the status needed to advance the CGI strategies in a particular AOR. The contact explaining an upcoming stakeholder meeting should be followed by a formal invitation letter that not only specifically requests an individual’s presence but explain what the CGI stakeholder group seeks to achieve. If a strong coalition already exists with a partner agency(s), it may be prudent to include multiple signatures on the letter. Read ahead materials, specifically, the CGI Best Practices Guide and the draft scoping document discussed above, should be provided to invitees. These documents will assist with preparing invitees prior to the meeting.

› Collect and collate material that can be shared with stakeholders in advance of the stakeholder’s meeting that details best practices related to combating gun crime, for example the International Association of Chiefs of Police Model Firearm’s Recovery Policy that outlines a) responding and collecting, b) extracting and analyzing, and c) pursuing and apprehending, and the disrupting the shooting cycle.[1]

o It should be understood that the stakeholder’s meeting may contain participants with varying levels of experience. To that end, it would prudent to produce and share a short summary document that explains in advance the principles of CGI that the stakeholder group aims to establish and practice. In addition, national level CGI related documents can be included in the package for each stakeholder and well as localized policies, protocols, and practices that may already be in place within the RSI. This will be an effort well spent and will be vital information for key stakeholders to understand as they endeavor to support, advance, and sustain CGI strategies. Additionally, distilling this information into an executive level brief will level set expectations among stakeholders and assist with strengthening or growing future capabilities.

2. Think and act together

› Identify a strong facilitator that can assist with developing an agenda and that can facilitate the meeting in a manner using the CGI best practice guide to assess the current capabilities for the comprehensive collection of intelligence, timeliness of collection, processing and dissemination, and advance future initiatives needed to overcome obstacles and bridge gaps.

o Planning for a successful stakeholder meeting should include identifying a strong facilitator that has credibility among the interagency partners that will be invited. This facilitator can develop an agenda by leveraging the CGI Best Practice Guide in a manner that can assess current CGI capabilities within an AOR. The facilitator’s agenda should include discussion regarding the group’s shared purpose, scope, and vision, the current capabilities for the comprehensive collection of intelligence, timeliness of collection, processing and dissemination, and the advancement of future initiatives needed to address gaps. Additionally, an independent facilitator can ‘take the heat” for broaching sensitive areas thereby preventing lasting hard feelings among the players who must continue to work together.

› Host initial meeting (and schedule follow up meetings) that provide forums for open discussion aimed at leveraging capabilities to address gun violence both strategically and operationally.

o While ATF is appropriately resourced to shepherd the CGI enterprise in a particular AOR, it is critical that the ownership of the overall effort is dispersed in an appropriately balanced manner across the interagency stakeholder group. Each stakeholder must understand that CGI capabilities are a shared enterprise and that the ATF is there to help shepherd but not to advance alone. Hosting the initial CGI stakeholder group meeting in a location that conveys a sense of partnership and collaboration can energize individual stakeholders to take ownership of the enterprise. The initial, and follow up meetings, should be formal in their setting and follow an agenda that while not only understands the time constraints of many of the participants but lends itself for discussing and actioning items that needs attention.

3. Define and Document the Roles of each stakeholder

› Outline the different roles, needs, and mission sets of each stakeholder.

o Successful CGI initiatives have demonstrated solid trusted partnerships among police, forensic experts, and prosecutors. Yet, the very nature of these distinct disciplines has historically created silos from one another in many AORs across the nation. It is important to understand the different needs and missions of each stakeholder prior to advancing a stakeholder meeting. While not a simple or easy task, it is essential to determines as many requirements as possible that a particular stakeholder may have. For example, will the forensic stakeholder cite accreditation standards that may create obstacles for advancing CGI initiatives in a rapid and timely manner. Having this information on the front end can assist a respective the CGI champion(s) with determining what research they may to conduct prior to advancing a stakeholder meeting. Often times, a phone call from the CGI champion(s) to a key stakeholder to explain the development of a stakeholder group can elicit needs and mission area prior to a formal stakeholder meeting.

› Understand the various NIBIN processing environment(s) which may be operating within the AOR/RSE’s (e.g. Local agency, Regional/County, Statewide).

o Similar to the forensic and ballistic lab servicing options outlined above, the way in which AORs process NIBIN in particular jurisdictions also run the gamut. Some AORs may have a limited number of NIBIN processing centers, while other AORs may have a multitude. Having an in depth understanding of how NIBIN is processed in a respective AOR – from acquisition to correlation is vital and mapping out how these processes are advanced will also support later stakeholder discussions that will focus on effective and efficient CGI strategies. Again, it is vitally important to understand, who does what, where, when, and how.

› Identify the forensic and ballistic labs servicing the respective AOR/RSEs.

o There is no one size fits all as it relates to how forensic or ballistic services are applied in AORs/RSE’s across the nation. Some AORs/RSEs, particular those of major metropolitan areas, may have forensic and ballistic lab services all contained under the “one roof” of a police agency. But what seems to be the more common practice is a diversified shared service model where a respective policy agency may handle an investigation in whole or in part, but rely on other agencies, whether a county or state to provide forensic and ballistic lab services. Some AORs/RSEs may have a host of different systems in place because of capabilities and historical precedent. Whatever the forensic and ballistic lab capability is for a particular AOR/RSEs it is vital for it to be mapped out to support later stakeholder discussions that can focus on effective and efficient CGI strategies. It is vitally important to know who does what, where, when, and how. For example, a problem in one Northeast jurisdiction is that while seized guns are sent out for DNA swabbing, they are handled by a different agency that does not understand nor recognize the timeliness requirement for the ballistics technicians in another agency to test fire the weapon and enter the test fired cartridge case into NIBIN in order to provide investigators with fresh and actionable investigative leads.

› Identify intelligence units, fusion centers, and other analytical entities that assess violent crime in the respective AOR/RSE and if they receive NIBIN hit information and other types of CGI.

o Processing NIBIN information is not complete until Intelligence or analytical entities have the opportunity to assess the raw information in order to add value and increase the manner in which the information can be actioned. A byproduct of a successful CGI capability in a given AOR is the abundance of lead information that is produced. What often follows are investigative entities trying to stay afloat in a churning sea of NIBIN lead information with no concrete ability to triage and prioritize leads. While the ATF proposes the GETS method for NIBIN lead prioritization this cannot be achieved unless there are dedicated intelligence or analytical resources to focus on the abundance of leads and assess them accordingly. Identifying intelligence units, fusion centers, and other analytical entities within a given AOR to conduct such work is a keystone of advancing CGI capabilities. Some AORs will have a multitude of entities to leverage and the challenge may very well be to develop processes that ensure communication, coordination and collaboration.

› Identify databases used within the AOR/RSE to store and share violent crime related information and NIBIN information (e.g. NESS, ShotSpotter, APLR, Gang, Street CCTV systems, etc.).

o CGI is a blend of NIBIN, eTrace, and local intelligence information, which runs the gamut depending on the local capabilities (i.e. gun fire auditory detection, ALPR, CCTV, criminal intelligence, etc.). With that said, it is important that stakeholders understand the different databases that an AOR may have that contains information and intelligence related to violent crime and NIBIN. For the stakeholders, this information may inform efforts to streamline access or to ensure that all data and information is exploited by investigators and Prosecutors. Mapping out how violent crime and NIBIN information is accessed and shared can reveal opportunities to strengthen or bolster existing capabilities. Access to databases may come in different “shapes and sizes” for each jurisdiction depending on its capabilities. Additionally, access to the ATF’s NESS system is contingent on a variety of factors as this important database is being rolled out. Recognizing what other databases are at play in a particular AOR – even if they are proprietary – is important toward developing that community approach needed to combat violent crime. Not understanding the divergent databases in a particular AOR will create unwanted surprises that can degrade trust in a stakeholder group.

4. Define and coalesce around a shared purpose

› Leverage the stakeholder group to define the shared purpose among the stakeholders.