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Suffolk DA, Boston police, ATF unveil plan to target illegal gun traffickers

A trio of law enforcement agencies are focusing manpower and technology on a key public safety issue in Boston — the flow of illegal guns into neighborhoods and the people who sell guns meant for criminal activities to make money despite the trauma and harm they help cause.

In a joint statement, Suffolk District Attorney Kevin R. Hayden; Acting Boston Police Commissioner Gregory Long; and James M. Ferguson, the special agent in charge of the Boston field office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, described the plan Thursday at a news conference.

The effort entails assigning two ATF agents and two Boston police detectives to Hayden’s Crime Strategies Bureau, where they will focus on prosecuting gun traffickers. The investigators will scour police reports, histories of the individual firearms, and ammunition seized in the city in an effort to link guns to individual traffickers, the officials said.

“This program is not focusing on the frightened juvenile caught with a firearm,’’ Hayden said in the statement. “Rather, it combines resources to target the individuals who are responsible for flooding our streets with deadly weapons that lead to violence, bloodshed, and terror in our neighborhoods.”

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Hayden expounded on that theme during the afternoon briefing, citing the March arrest of a Tennessee man on firearms charges after he arrived at South Station with a backpack full of 11 handguns and ammunition, which authorities allege he was going to distribute in the area.

“That’s not a frightened youngster carrying a gun,” Hayden said. “That’s a gun trafficker. That’s what we’re going after.”

The project is called the Boston Firearm Intelligence Review Shooting and Trafficking (Boston FIRST), which officials said is the first program in New England for which a multi-agency state and federal effort has been created to target gun traffickers in the city.

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“This initiative devotes the collective resources and expertise of its partners to identify, investigate and prosecute illegal firearm related incidents.” said Ferguson from the ATF. “These resources focus on illegal firearms trafficking that fuels the violent shootings that destroy families and terrorize our communities.”

The effort will draw information from an ATF database that can help track firearms and ballistic evidence recovered from a crime scene in Boston to others potentially leading to larger cases — with more severe penalties — against the source of crime guns.

“In short, firearms trace information provides you with [information on] the start and end of the firearms,” Ferguson said during Thursday’s briefing. “Initially who bought it, and then who was caught with it.”

He said the information “will allow us to work with our partners to build upon that information and strengthen that information, so that we can collectively identify the ... sources of firearms and the individuals who are creating the violence and the havoc to our communities.”

Long said the goal is to improve the quality of life in city neighborhoods.

“The Boston Police Department will continue to work with our partners in every way possible to hold those accountable who engage in violence in our neighborhoods as well as traffic the firearms used to commit these violent acts,” he said in a statement.

Boston police have recovered 301 firearms so far this year, an 11.5 percent increase over the same period last year, according to department statistics. Last year, police reported 636 firearms were linked to crimes in the city.

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Using the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network operated by the ATF, investigators tracked 76 firearms recovered from crime scenes by Boston police last year and discovered that only 10 percent were purchased in Massachusetts — the remainder were brought into Massachusetts from 18 other states.

The approach by the Boston FIRST team is expected to generate 400 investigative leads based on the recovery of 100 firearms in the city this year. Some of the cases will be prosecuted by Hayden’s office and Massachusetts US Attorney Rachael Rollins’ office in federal court.

Travis Andersen of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe. Matt Yan can be reached at matt.yan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @matt_yan12.