ATF Chief: Detroit's Violent Criminals Are a 'Throwback'

April 08, 2013, 11:49 PM by  Allan Lengel

Daryl McCrary is no stranger to the world of violence.

Having spent 21 years with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) he’s worked in places like Los Angeles and Baltimore. He’s gone undercover, he’s bought guns on the street and investigated gangs and violent crime.

As acting head of ATF in Detroit since October, McCrary says Detroit is as violent as any city in America, and more violent than many.

He says while he’s seen criminals in other cities modify their activity to try and avoid detection -- and ultimately prison --  Detroit criminals haven’t really bent much. He calls them “prideful” when it comes to street survival.

“Drive-by shootings. Home invasions. Aggravated assaults. I see a lot of things that I consider to be a throwback” to the old days.

No better example of the dangers in the city was the shootout last week between members of an ATF task force and a murder suspect they were trying to arrest near Linwood and Hooker on the city’s west side. The task force boxed in the suspect’s car. When officers approached, the suspect opened fire. One Detroit police officer on the task force was shot twice in the leg. Another Detroit cop on the task force suffered what was first thought to be gunshot wounds to the head.

But Deadline Detroit reported Sunday night that the officer may have actually been hit in the head by metal fragments, perhaps from a car, that came from a bullet striking the vehicle. The officer remains hospitalized. The suspect, Matthew Joseph, 23, was killed in the shootout.

Detroit Police and Michigan State Police investigators have been trying to determine if the shot that caused the metal fragments to fly -- if in fact that was the case -- came from a fellow law enforcement officer or the suspect, who carried a .40-caliber gun, the same caliber Detroit police use.

In a recent interview with Deadline Detroit’s Allan Lengel, McCrary sat in his office on Gratiot near Eastern Market and talked about the violence in the city, what ATF is doing to battle it and about the task force involved.

But he declined to comment on any details of the shootout last week, saying, “Detroit police are investigating it. It’s an ongoing investigation.”

“We’re going after the worst people,” he said. “ We do it routinely in great numbers.  Most of the time we do it safely. That was just one of the times it ended up the way it did.”

The following is a condensed version of the interview. The questions were edited for clarity.  

DD: Tell me about the task force that was involved in the shooting.

McCrary: That task force, the Comprehensive Violence Reduction Partnership (CVRP)  was put together approximately three years ago to address violence in the northwest part of town. There’s been a variation of task forces that ATF has had here in Detroit. That particular task force was originated to address violent crime. It was a partnership with a variety of different departments, Detroit Police, Michigan State police, Wayne County Sheriff’s Department, Dearborn. I think it has been very successful. Just since I’ve been here we’ve taken down a number of guys into custody. Guys that are wanted for committing murders, home invasions, things of that nature.  I think it’s been very successful.

Murder Suspect Matthew Joseph

DD: I know they were doing a surveillance on the homicide suspect Matthew Joseph.  Was it their intent to make an arrest or just conduct surveillance?

McCrary: The intent was to arrest the person. It’s an open investigation. It’s continuing. I really can’t talk about any aspects of the investigation, only to say we were there to make an arrest. The CVRP, we’re going after the worst people. We do it routinely in great numbers. We actually have an agent who is attached as a part of the task force to DPD homicide, and we identify people, do murder investigations and when there’s a warrant, we go and take that person off the street.  We do it routinely and most of the time we do it safely.  That was just one of the times it ended up the way it did.

DD: I assume there’s a critique being done to see how the result could be better next time?

McCrary: There was an operation plan. We routinely, just as a standard operating procedure, have a plan to go out and do these things. In the course of the plan, things change. Our number-one priority is public safety. There will be a review. There’s a shooting review that’s taking place and after the shooting review is over, we’ll of course look at the tactics and everything that was involved. We’re always striving to do better at everything that we’re doing.

DD: You’ve worked in Los Angeles, Baltimore.What do you tell people when they ask to compare crime in those cities and Detroit?

McCrary: I think that I’ve said this since I’ve been here. I’d say Detroit is an active city. I see lot of things that are going on in Detroit that I saw a long time ago in other cities. The level of violence. The abundance of violence. I was in Baltimore from 99 to 2002, kind of the pre-”Wire” days. In fact, I remember when they were filming “Homicide” then. I know Baltimore quite well. I see Detroit really being a lot more active than Baltimore was in terms of violence. Drive-by shootings. Home invasions. Aggravated assaults. I see a lot of things that I consider to be a throwback. Out in LA., I started out there in the '80s and mid-90s, worked there, a lot of undercover. Worked a lot of gangs. And back then during that time, when it was kind of a crack epidemic.  Again, back in the crack days, there was crime, there was a lot of drive-by shootings and then those things changed. Law enforcement evolved so the crooks evolved, because of all the public and media attention.

They changed. But the types of crimes, drive-by shootings, pay-backs, all that stuff, it changed. But you (still) see a lot of that here. You see drive-by shootings here.

DD: What’s going on out on the streets in terms of the supply of guns and what kind of  guns are you seeing out there?

McCrary: You see a  lot of semi-automatic handguns, some assault weapons, semi-automatic weapons, derivatives of AK-47s, semi-automatic pistols.

DD: On the street, what would an AK-47 go for?

McCrary: Depends. It can go anywhere from $1,200 to $2,000. It depends on the condition it’s in, and how badly the person wants it, and what they’re willing to pay for it.

DD: Where are these guns originating from?

McCrary: A variety of different sources. You see a lot of stolen weapons. You see some weapons purchased out of state. We do trace studies. There’s a pretty robust market in stolen firearms.  There’s a lot of burglaries and home invasions (in the city and suburbs) where firearms are stolen, and those are traded on the illicit market.

DD: Is it cheaper to get it on the street or in the store?

McCrary: That depends. It can depend on the type of weapons it is. Generally speaking, people are buying it on the street for a reason or they would be going and purchasing them in a retail  business. Some of its because they have a criminal background and they cannot purchase them legally.

DD: Do you see some of the folks in the suburbs selling in the city and vice versa?

McCrary: I don’t see that. We’ll use our intelligence group to do an assessment and look at sources of guns based on our trace data, where the guns are coming from: Did those guns come from gun shows, did they come from thefts. We’re just looking at what we need to do to bring the violent crime rate down in Detroit.

DD: Are you seeing a lot of gang activity in the city?

McCrary: I see gangs. I see crews. I was in Los Angeles. There are  gangs. There are large-scale gangs. Here there may be gangs, there may be crews, there are families that certainly have characteristics of gangs but maybe haven’t been formalized the way they have been in other geographical areas.

DD: What kind of activity are the gangs involved in?

McCrary: Criminal activity. Drugs. Territory. They have various reasons why they are getting together and calling themselves gangs. We are simply focused on targeting the kind of the worst offenders, the worse violent offenders.

DD: When you’re talking about the worst offenders,  you’re talking about?

McCrary: A lot of murders. A lot homicide investigations. People connected with aggravated assaults, armed robberies.  We are very active, along with DPD (Detroit Police Department), trying to get these people who are associated with the murders and homicides in the city off the street.

DD: Do you see any groups ripping off drug dealers?

McCrary: That is prevalent around here. They have money, they’re known to the criminal element.

DD: Do the drug dealers usually try to settle the ripoffs on their own?

McCrary: I’ve seen that since I’ve been here.  We’ve actually been in the middle of some of that.

DD: When you say in the middle, can you explain?

McCrary: We get information that people have weapons, that they’re about to commit a crime of murder. Once we delve down into the investigation, we find out it’s kind of a payback for a rip. We’ve seen that here as of late. For us, whether crimes are committed on the part of the citizenry that are doing what they should legally or even the people who are involved in the illegal aspects of it, we still treat it the same way as a crime. We get out with resources and try to stop that.

DD: Some people are saying maybe the feds need to supplement the Detroit Police Department even more. Is there some call for that?

McCrary: We work very closely with the department and always have. Obviously, the department has gone through some changes. It has shrunk. With shrinking resources that everyone has, it’s just smarter to pool our resources. We’re working very hard to improve collaboration now to try and make a dent.

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