CHICAGO -- Days after a stray bullet turned an 11-year-old girl into yet another victim of Chicago's gun violence, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin hailed a new facility designed to help authorities track illegal guns and link them to crimes across the city, state and country.
The new Gun Crime Intelligence Center was opened last month in Chicago by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. After touring the center Friday with ATF director B. Todd Jones, Durbin said it represents the most coordinated effort by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to track guns in the region.
"We can't fight a war against gun violence in the city of Chicago without the best intelligence to know where the weapons are, where the shooters are and stop it before it happens," Durbin said. "All of this intelligence leads us to solving crimes and putting criminals behind bars."
Durbin said staff at the center is collecting information about guns and shell casings found at crime scenes and seized by hundreds of agencies in Illinois and other states. It is then fed into computers to determine if any of the weapons recovered can be linked to other crimes.
Durbin has called Chicago's violence an epidemic. Over the July 4 weekend, a spasm of gun violence left at least 14 dead and dozens more injured. Last week, a stray bullet pierced a wall and killed 11-year-old Shamiya Adams as she played with friends during a sleepover. A suspect in that shooting, Tevin Lee, was ordered held without bond during a brief hearing on Friday.
The intelligence center is another example of recent announcements by federal agencies that they would beef up their involvement in the city's battle with crime. The ATF has dispatched seven additional agents to Chicago and the FBI has temporarily assigned 20 more agents to the city for the summer.
Zachary Fardon, the U.S. attorney for northern Illinois, announced his office was creating a violent crimes section to focus on street-level violence in Chicago, but his office acknowledged that no new resources were being committed.
One critic dismissed the new gun intelligence center as just little more than a distraction in the frustrating fight to get the violence under control.
"This is nothing but smoke and mirrors and wasting taxpayers' money," said Phil Turner, a former federal prosecutor, who noted previous efforts to coordinate intelligence on gun crimes.
Durbin said that improved technology and increased cooperation would help in "connecting the dots." Jones did not address the media after the tour.