BY MARK BOWES Richmond Times-Dispatch
Virginia has become the test state for a planned nationally linked program that will allow every law enforcement agency in the commonwealth — if they choose to participate — instant access to a shared database of records on recovered crime guns and investigative traces of those weapons.
In the eight weeks since the program was launched, 25 of Virginia’s 352 state and local law enforcement agencies have signed agreements to share crime gun trace data with their participating state colleagues through an enhancement of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ eTrace system, an Internet-based firearms tracing and analysis initiative.
The shared information can help authorities link a suspect to a firearm in a criminal investigation, identify potential gun traffickers and straw purchasers, and detect intrastate patterns regarding the sources and types of weapons used in crimes.
“It’s basically a pay-to-play system,” said April Carroll of the ATF’s eTracing unit, in explaining how police agencies must share their data to receive information in return. “If you opt in, you have access to all the other pool of data for all the other agencies that have also chosen to opt in. So it’s reciprocal, and the data is immediately available and it’s instantaneous sharing.”
The Virginia initiative, which started in mid-July as a first-of-its-kind pilot program, is an expansion of the federal Electronic Tracing System based at the ATF’s National Tracing Center in Martinsburg, W.Va.