Profile No. 39

U.S. Attorney's Office Anti-Violence Crime Task Force -- Memphis, TN

Program Type or Federal Program Source:
Program of Prevention Education­changing attitudes toward guns and violence.

Program Goal:
To prosecute adults who provide guns to juveniles.

Specific Groups Targeted by the Strategy:
Adults who are illegally transferring guns to youth.

Geographical Area Targeted by the Strategy:
Western District of Tennessee.

Evaluated by:
Internal data collection.

Contact Information:
Tony Arvin
Assistant U.S. Attorney
U.S. Attorney's Office
800 Federal Building
Memphis, TN 38103
Phone: 901­544­4231

Years of Operation:

In 1995, Memphis and Shelby County experienced a 39-percent increase in weapons possession on school campuses; a 50-percent increase in the number of youth charged with reckless endangerment with a weapon; a 5.5-percent increase in misdemeanor gun possession by juveniles; and a 9-percent increase in felony possession. Forty juveniles were charged with some form of homicide.

In response, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Tennessee applied for and received an Anti-Violent Crime Initiative grant, which began in August 1995. This grant formed the basis for the expansion of the Violent Crimes Task Force (VCTF) to target juvenile offenders and to enforce the Youth Handgun Safety Act. The language of this Act states that it is unlawful for a person to sell, deliver, or otherwise transfer a handgun and/or handgun ammunition to a person whom the transferor knows is a juvenile. The goals of the task force were to discover how juveniles were obtaining guns, develop appropriate prevention policies, and develop prosecutable cases against adults responsible for the illegal supply of guns to children and other juveniles.

VCTF operates under a memorandum of understanding (MOU) involving eight agencies: the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), Memphis Police Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Shelby County Sheriff's Department, in addition to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County, Memphis City Schools, and District Attorney's Office for the 30th District of Tennessee. Under the terms of the MOU, the task force has maintained a presence within the juvenile court to compile statistics on firearm possession by juveniles and within the school system to collect information on student violence. With the assistance of ATF, the task force also traces all confiscated guns and interviews all juveniles arrested for firearm possession in an attempt to locate the sources of firearms. In addition, the task force has developed a method of organizing and classifying all statistical information gathered at the Juvenile Court to maximize intelligence. These data are reported to a Violent Crimes Coordinator on a monthly basis. The task force also has developed a method for identifying related juvenile cases. The participation of the arresting officers has greatly increased the task force's effectiveness in and awareness of potential cases.

The task force also has been involved in analyzing all weapon-related information obtained from the school system.

Interim findings, covering the period from June 1995 to May 1996, reveal that 82 percent of arrested children (ages 11 to 17) were interviewed by VCTF. VCTF traced 319 weapons. The most popular guns recovered were the .38 caliber revolver and the .38 caliber pistol. Charges for these arrests included aggravated robbery, property crimes, and drug and firearm violations. Most of the juveniles denied having a weapon or refused to talk to VCTF, although they were told it would have no bearing on their cases. On average, the youth's first gun experience was at age 13, although the incidence of gang involvement, mentioned in the interviews, was believed to be underestimated. The first prosecution in the country under the Youth Handgun Safety Act was attributed to this task force.

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