ROBERTSON COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – Law enforcement in Robertson County are working together in an effort to end gun trafficking.
Robertson is bordered by multiple Tennessee counties as well as Kentucky, and it’s that proximity to larger towns and counties that leads to some dangerous and violent criminals using the rural areas as a place to not only hideout but run criminal enterprises.
“Where we sit it is a haven,” Detective Charles Consiglio said. “Over the years I can’t tell you how many times we have arrested people with very violent crime warnings out of Montgomery County and Davidson County.”
He continued, “They come to the communities that they feel just have a few cops.”
In 2011, when Springfield police Chief David Thompson came to the department, the city was a small town with a concerning murder rate.
“We knew the violent crime rate was high,” he said. “We started looking around to try to figure out why that was happening and one thing we identified was a lot of gang activity.”
Along with the gangs came a lot of illegal weapons.
Chief Thompson and officers with his department, along with deputies from the Robertson County Sheriff’s Office, started working to combat the problem.
“We expanded in 2014 to a violent crime initiative,” he said. “We brought in not only the sheriff’s office and other agencies–we brought in the ATF, DEA and FBI.”
He continued, “Since that time, we have seen tremendous reductions in both gang activity and violent crime.”
The federal agencies provide resources like undercover operatives and money to make undercover weapons purchases. Those purchases allowed the ATF to make federal cases against the most dangerous offenders in Springfield and Robertson County.
“There are a certain number of individuals in the criminal element who are focused on selling these weapons,” ATF Special Agent Michael Knight said. “They use these firearms in many crimes from homicides to aggravated assault and when that criminal element is removed from that area then the flow of firearms will typically decrease.”
In Robertson County, the ability to charge weapons traffickers federally allowed for longer prison sentences.
“These resources really augment what the law enforcement agencies also provide for these criminal investigations,” Special Agent Knight said.
Three men are examples of how the partnership can lead to lengthy prison sentences. Bobby Miles, Jr., Terry Phelps and Devin Dowlen are all serving 10-year federal sentences in connection with weapons charges.
At the federal level, inmates service their sentences day-for-day with no time off for good behavior.
“There is a difference when they go to federal court because they are going to do more time and they are going to stay out a lot longer,” Chief Thompson said. “Once again we save this for the worst of the worst offenders. These are for violent offenders who carry guns and we had quite a few of those in Springfield at that time.”
He continued, “I have seen grown men back there and when they were introduced to the ATF agent they literally sat there and cried because they knew they were going to federal court.”
The operations also helped by putting criminals on notice that the police, sheriff and federal agents were doing undercover operations in the county.
Now officers are noticing a difference in the weapons they confiscate on the streets.
“What we are seeing a lot of as far as confiscated weapons, is they are locally stolen weapons. We didn’t see that before,” Det. Consiglio said. “We were seeing a lot of stuff out of state or out of Nashville and Clarksville.”
He continued, “But now a lot of guns we are getting from people are coming from burglaries out in the county or in the city.”
Springfield has seen a reduction in violent crime, even as weapons arrests increased. In 2015 and 2016, the town did not have a single murder. Something that was unheard of in years past.
The ATF also helps local law enforcement by tracing those guns to find out where they came from and other possible crimes tied to the weapons.
“One of the major concerns the ATF has is in terms of the stolen firearms is these firearms are not only stolen from federal firearms licensees but also from residences,” Special Agent Knight said. “So residential burglaries and vehicle burglaries also contribute to illegal weapons trafficking.”
Special Agent Knight said the concern for stolen firearms is they are used in additional crimes. The first crime is the theft, then additional crimes are committed and the weapon can end up in different cities or states.
“The ATF encourages the public, if they have a personally owned firearm, to write down the serial number, write down the make and the model, take a photograph of that firearm and keep it separate from your properly stored firearm,” Special Agent Knight said. “The ATF has an anonymous program through reward tips and this program is done through a phone app called Report It.”
The agency’s ReportIt app allows people to report criminal activity and give tips about investigations involving the ATF anonymously.
The ATF in partnership with the National Shooting Sports Foundation launched the “Don’t Lie For the Other Guy Campaign.”
It reminds people that convicted felons, minors, persons determined by a court of law to be “mentally defective” and certain others are prohibited by law from buying a firearm.
You can face up to 10 years in prison if you buy a firearm for someone who is not legally allowed to have one.