Chicago Gang Problem is Personal to New ATF Chief

Celinez Nunez remembers the day she knew she would become a law-enforcement officer.

She was just eight years old and living in Logan Square.

On that day in 1983, she learned that gang members beat her older cousin to death with a nail-studded baseball bat.

Hector Sanchez was like her big brother. He combed her hair and took her to school every day.

His murder changed Nunez’s life.

“When this happened I said, ‘You know what? I want to go after these guys. I want to go after these gangbangers that cause havoc in our community.’ I never want anyone to go through what my family went through. For me it’s personal. It really is.”

Nunez went on to become an agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. She held several high-profile positions supervising agents in Seattle and Puerto Rico.

And recently, the 41-year-old Northwest Side native landed her dream job. She was named the special agent in charge of the Chicago office of the ATF at a critical time for the agency because of the national focus on violence here.

In early January, President Donald Trump tweeted about the city’s struggle to reverse the total of more than 760 killings in 2016, the highest in decades.

“If Mayor can’t do it he must ask for federal help!” Trump wrote.

Later, Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson responded that he’d welcome the help. The Chicago Police Department was more than willing to build on its partnership with ATF and other federal agencies, he said.

Sources have told the Chicago Sun-Times that dozens of new ATF agents are being sent to Chicago to fight the gun violence here.

Nunez wouldn’t discuss how many additional agents the Trump administration might assign to Chicago.

Generally, though, she said more agents are needed to investigate the “hits” the Chicago police receive on an ATF database that links bullet casings to guns used in crimes. The system is called the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, or NIBIN.

“We are trying to beef up the manpower of the Chicago field office to address these 300 NIBIN hits every month,” Nunez said in a recent interview.

NIBIN can help the police determine if a gun that was used in a shooting was also used in other ones. Using the data, police can tie a shooting suspect to multiple crimes and see if a particular gang is causing most of the violence in a neighborhood.

In addition to NIBIN, ATF agents work with the police to investigate the ownership trail of weapons used in crimes. Continue Reading

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