About a year ago my partner at work got an urgent call from one of our informants. His gang, he said, was getting ready to do a drive-by shooting.
The informant was a young gang member who agreed to help us in order to work off a previous arrest. He was no stranger to this type of crime, and his gang had been rumored to be looking for an opportunity to retaliate against its rivals for whatever passed for transgressions in their world.
We took the call seriously, especially when he told us the other members were currently shopping for guns. We got set up quickly.
With the informant’s help we orchestrated the gun purchase to take place at a known illegal arms dealer’s house. We had surveillance teams in place for the entire duration, and fortunately it went well. The bad guys went to jail. The guns, two semi-auto pistols, went with us.
During this sting the firearms we seized had never touched the hands of a would-be shooter. From the outset, it was our intent to maintain control and to never let the guns “walk away” in the possession of criminals, especially those who had expressed their desire to shoot people.
A similar operation, on a much larger scale, was ATF’s “Fast and Furious.” Described in the Trib’s latest update (8/30), this operation had the respectable purpose of targeting gun-trafficking kingpins on the Southwest border. But in this case the end result didn’t justify the means: Allowing approximately 2,000 guns to “walk away” in the possession of gun traffickers.
There has been a lot of finger-pointing following this debacle. Jobs have been lost and careers ruined. But the blame for this ill-conceived effort should not fall on the field agents involved. Having worked with numerous federal agents, from DEA, Secret Service, FBI, ICE and ATF, the vast majority are hard-working and dedicated professionals doing the best they can to solve complex criminal issues such as cartel violence.
The real problem, like everything else in Washington, D.C., is politics.
Though local cops must often deal with frustrating municipal and administrative issues during the daily struggle against street crime, these are minor irritants compared to the triple redundant, micro-managed, bureaucratic logjam with which my federal counterparts must contend.
Example: A friend from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offered to join us for a few days of street gang enforcement. Despite a successful joint operation, when the political wind shifted the agent found himself in the hot seat for helping us out. Months later, after yet another policy reversal, he was back in town helping out again.
“Fast and Furious”, I can only surmise, arose from similarly inconsistent political will. This operation must have been perceived as a courageous response to frustrated politicos eager to advance their careers, with the descriptors “bold and powerful” inked on their federal resumes.
It was bold all right. “Fast and Furious” likely resulted in the deaths of many people south of our border, including one of our own ICE agents, Jaime Zapata. What “Fast and Furious” lacked, however, was the common sense necessary to keep thousands of guns from “walking away” into the hands of killers.
That level of common sense seems to be in short supply in D.C.