Region signs agreement with US to track illegal guns

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, April 1, 2009 – As nine Caribbean islands signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with a United States law enforcement agency to enhance their ability to track and fight firearms trafficking and illegal possession, the head of a regional police body revealed that there could be as many as 1.6 million illegal guns in the Caribbean.

Chairman of the Association of Caribbean Commissioners of Police (ACCP) Darwin Dottin, who is also the top cop in Barbados, said that statistic was revealed in a recent study.

He added that there was a direct link between the rise in violent crime in the region and “gun trafficking”.

Dottin was speaking at a ceremony at the home of United States Chargé d’Affaires to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Dr Brent Hardt, where Police Commissioners and senior officers from Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Barbados, Curacao, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis and St Vincent and the Grenadines initialed the document for eTrace.

Deputy Assistant Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Julie Torres signed on behalf of the agency.

eTrace is a paperless firearm trace submission system that is accessible through a secure connection to the World Wide Web.  This Internet application provides the necessary utilities for submitting, retrieving, storing and querying firearms trace-related information and allowing for the systematic tracing of firearms recovered from crime scenes.

Analysis of firearms trace data can assist in the identification of firearms trafficking patterns and geographic profiling for criminal hot spots and possible sources of illicit firearms.

The MOU establishes conditions of the partnership between ATF and those countries regarding policy and procedures for the access and use of eTrace services made available to law enforcement agencies.

US envoy Hardt told the ceremony the event represented another “important step forward in the longstanding tradition of close law enforcement cooperation between the United States and the Caribbean”.

He said coming out of the US-Caribbean Conference in 2007 the region and the US realised the rising threat from the trafficking in small arms and lights weapons and joined forces to fight it.

“Recognising our shared desire to protect our citizens, CARICOM and the US resolved ‘to combat illicit arms trafficking relentlessly through vigorous co-operation’. To do so, our countries agreed on a number of measures including the strengthened import and export controls, better information sharing on those involved in illicit trafficking, and new efforts to promote the tracing of firearms recovered in connection with illicit activities,” he noted.

Dr Hardt said that, so far, over 2 000 law enforcement agencies in the US have subscribed to eTrace and information derived through that programme had helped in the investigation of thousands of crimes.

He added that given its immense success in the US the government decided to offer the programme to allies and key partners overseas.

ACCP Chairman Dottin said the eTrace system would better equip police forces to gauge the flow of illegal guns in the region.