CHICAGO (AP) - Chicago police, federal agents and prosecutors launched an initiative Friday aimed at stemming the flow of illegal firearms in the city as part of efforts to curb rampant gun violence that President Donald Trump says is at "epidemic proportions."
Trump's remark on Twitter came ahead of an announcement by Chicago police and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives about the formation of the Chicago Crime Gun Strike Force.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office said an additional 20 ATF agents have been sent to Chicago. Tim Jones, the ATF's special agent in charge of the strike force, said the agents will be assigned permanently to the city.
State police, intelligence analysts and state and federal prosecutors will target illegal guns and repeat gun offenders, Chicago police said. Superintendent Eddie Johnson said in a statement that "we are foundationally changing the way we fight crime in Chicago."
Trump tweeted Friday morning that "Crime and killings in Chicago have reached such epidemic proportions that I am sending in Federal help." In January, he warned Chicago about its high number of homicides, saying on Twitter that he is ready to "send in the Feds."
Adam Collins, spokesman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, said the city wants the assistance.
"Six months ago we made it clear that we would welcome additional federal support, and six months later we appreciate the 20 new ATF agents that are now arriving," Collins said in an email. But as the police department released figures that show the number of homicides, shooting incidents and shooting victims has dropped, Collins said "the progress CPD has made this year has happened without any of the new resources from the federal government we requested."
Police officials said they started talking about beefing up ATF's Chicago presence in November during then-President Barack Obama's administration and earlier this week, officials announced the ATF had loaned the city a van outfitted with ballistic testing equipment to help police more quickly solve gun crimes.
Acting U.S. Attorney Joel Levin told a Friday afternoon news conference that prosecutors are in the midst of ramping up federal gun prosecutions, saying his office has prosecuted more federal gun cases this year than in all of 2016 - and in 2016, his office prosecuted more such cases than it had in a decade.
Trump's latest tweet said there have been 1,714 shootings in Chicago this year. According to the police department, there have been 1,703 shooting victims. There were 1,935 shooting victims in the city during the same period last year. Also, there have been 1,360 shooting incidents so far this year - 224 less than were reported during the same period in 2016. So far this year, there have been 320 homicides compared to 322 by this time last year, according to the police department.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Friday that the Justice Department will send more federal prosecutors to Chicago to "prioritize prosecutions to reduce gun violence."
"The police have been demoralized in many ways," Sessions said earlier in the day on Fox News Channel's morning show, "Fox & Friends." ''In many ways, the policies in Chicago have not been working. Murders are way, way too high."
Sessions last week pledged federal assistance to 12 cities to help them develop individualized, long-term strategies to fight violence. But Chicago was not among them.
The Justice Department said that's because Chicago already was part of a similar Justice Department program called the Violence Reduction Network, which began in 2014. Under that initiative, federal agents teamed up with their local counterparts to share resources and intelligence.
The Justice Department spokesman said the department will keep working with cities including Chicago under the new crime-fighting program, called the Public Safety Partnership. And he noted that dozens of additional ATF agents had "surged" into Chicago so far this year.