ATF shows prosecutors, FOX 17 the front lines of law enforcement

Posted at 6:10 PM, Jul 24, 2014
and last updated 2014-07-24 23:26:43-04

IONIA, Mich. - As investigators in Michigan work hard to solve crimes across our area, they’re teaming up with the people who prosecute the bad guys, taking them to the front lines.

Today, FOX 17 news went along for the ride.

You know the group of federal law enforcement officers as the ATF, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

They assist local, state and other federal agencies in cases involving arson and gun crimes and providing experts and resources that might otherwise be unavailable.

“We have experts in firearms, we have experts in arson and explosives, and that’s really our main focus,” said Donald Dawkins, the ATF’s public information officer in Detroit. “We work a lot with state and local agencies and federal agencies.”

The ATF gave prosecutors and the media on Thursday an idea of the training involved in their work. They do this twice a year. “[It’s] an opportunity to see kinda what we’re dealing with, what they’re dealing with,” said Muskegon County Prosecutor DJ Hilson. “We actually made some contacts that, hopefully, we’ll be able to use in future investigations.”

FOX 17 spent about three hours at the Ionia Maximum Correctional Facility gun range, learning about high-risk search warrants, arson investigations, and automatic weapons.

“It’s a great opportunity to meet state and local prosecutors that we may not know,” Dawkins said. “But, it’s a better opportunity to shoot firearms, shoot weapons that they encounter on the street,that we encounter on the street so often.”

Serving high-risk warrants is just part of the job for the men and women who work at the ATF. Agents must prepare for the worst. because what’s lurking behind closed doors isn’t always clear

While participants used handguns similar to a Glock, the agents serving a warrant are actually equipped with more powerful weaponry. “What we have here is our ATF special response team M4,” said Special Agent Jim Soper, ATF firearms instructor. “It’s a fully automatic weapon.”

The M4 is a firearm with quite a bit of kick.

Participants also fired an MP5, an AK-47, and an Uzi, all guns ATF agents encounter on the street.

“Many assistants that we hire these days really have no background or training with firearms, yet we task them with reading police reports every day that deal with firearms-related crimes,” said Ionia County Prosecutor Ron Schafer.

“I think it puts in perspective how dangerous they are,” said Hilson. “We’re dealing with various types of weapons and, really, when we look at a scene and we’re looking at shell casings, the potential of what that particular weapon could be, that really helps.”