Q: Can you describe your circuit’s Operation Young Guns initiative?
A: We started this initiative in May of last year because we noticed that a lot of the violent gun crime, to include murder, attempted murder, armed robbery and drive-by shootings, was being done by young individuals between the ages of 12 and 25 years old. We decided to begin documenting these in our system so that we could appropriately and aggressively address and prosecute these cases, which have been dramatically increasing in number.
It’s very disturbing because these kids are shooting and even killing each other over an issue as minimal as music preferences or “disrespect.” So we said enough is enough and we began tracking these cases.
We suspected that some of these cases, including those where guns were fired but there was no victim, could be related. We started looking at social media and found that a lot of these individuals were glorifying gun violence with their posts. Via technology that compares shell casings, we have found that some guns reported as stolen were used in these crimes. As you know, we’ve had a rash of thefts from unlocked cars in the Northwest and Northeast areas of St. Johns County. Guns stolen in these areas have been used in crimes committed in other areas of the Seventh Circuit.
Q: Have you expanded the use of technology to identify firearms used in crimes?
A: A firearm will leave a “fingerprint” on the shell casing of a fired bullet. A semi-automatic firearm ejects shell casings and this process also leaves a unique mark. Previously, we have run these through a regional database, but have expanded to using a national database known as National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN). We’ve started using this technology even in non-murder cases where firearms have been used and are finding that casings at one crime site sometimes match another, so we can connect these crimes.
Q: Have you found success in prosecuting as a result of this initiative?
A: Yes. We have had three or four “Young Guns” trials in the past 60 days, all of which resulted in significant prison time. We are working closely with all the sheriffs in the circuit to ensure there is the most evidence available to prosecute.
Q: What would you say is the bottom line?
A: While crime is low in our circuit and we are fortunate to live in a low violence community, there are pockets of crime that we are focusing on because these can become a significant threat to all communities. We are making significant progress in cleaning up. Our duty is public safety and this is our number one priority.