Tag Archives: atf

ATF–History of the Badges

atf

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives has had many badges over their history. Here’s a look at how the ATF badges have evolved.

atfOffice of Commissioner of Internal Revenue, Department of Treasury, 1791-1919

The ATF law enforcement legacy began in 1791 when the first tax on whiskey passed under President George Washington. ATF’s legacy evolved under the U.S. Department of Treasury, first as part of the Office of Commissioner of Internal Revenue and then with the Bureau of Internal Revenue. Today’s ATF Special Agents and Investigators are directly descended from the earliest Internal Revenue Collectors, Deputy Collectors, Assessors, Gougers, Store keeps, and Inspectors. This star badge is believed to be the original issue of that era.

atfProhibition Unit, Bureau of Internal Revenue, U.S. Department of Treasury, 1920-1926

On January 19, 1919, Congress ratified the 18th Amendment banning the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcoholic beverages. Prohibition led to underground distilleries and saloons supplying bootlegged liquor. This prompted the U.S. Department of Treasury to strengthen its law enforcement capabilities. Eliot Ness emerged on the scene as a temporary Prohibition Agent.

atfBureau of Prohibition, U.S. Department of Treasury, 1927-1930

In 1927, the Prohibition Unit was reorganized into the separate and distinct Bureau of U.S. Department of Treasury. As criminals gained control over the illegal liquor industry, a new mission of the Bureau emerged; crime fighting.

atfBureau of Prohibition, U.S. Department of Justice, 1930-1933

By 1930, the crime fighting mission began conflicting with the Treasury Departments’ philosophy of voluntary compliance with the laws. Crime fighting was transferred to the U.S. Department of Justice. The Treasury Department created the Bureau of Industrial Alcohol to carry out its remaining regulatory functions.

In 1933, the 21st Amendment ended prohibition. The Bureau of Prohibition and Alcoholic Beverage Unit were dismantled. President Franklin Roosevelt issued an executive order consolidating any federal agencies enforcing and regulating the liquor industry into one entity. That new entity became the Alcohol Tax Unit (ATU) of the Internal Revenue Service.

atfAlcohol Tax Unit, Bureau of Internal Revenue, U.S. Department of Treasury, 1934-1951

There was still an illegal liquor problem in the country during this time. ATU seized many plants in the first few months of their existence. ATU managed to dismantle large liquor syndicated and the attitudes of prosecutors, judges, and courts began to change.

atfAlcohol and Tobacco Tax Division, Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Department of Treasury, 1952-1967

In 1952, the IRS consolidated enforcement responsibilities of alcohol and tobacco under one unit known as the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division. Moonshine production became a problem and moonshine related deaths became widespread.

atfAlcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Division, Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Department of Treasury, 1968-1971

Investigations of firearms and explosives-related crimes and regulation of those industries became a high priority within the U.S. Department of Treasury. Congress delegated the enforcement of laws and regulations to Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division, which had expanded responsibilities in firearms. Therefore, it became known as the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Division.

atfBureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, U.S. Department of Treasury, 1972-2002

ATF became an independent bureau on July 1, 1972, and reported directly to the Treasury Department’s Office of Enforcement, Tariff and Trade Affairs, and Operations. Responsibilities changes with ATF, moving from primarily the investigation of illicit alcohol, to crimes involving firearms, explosives, and arson.

atfBureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, Department of Justice. 2003-Present

The Homeland Security Act of 2002 transferred law enforcement responsibilities of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms with the Treasury Department to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives with the U.S. Department of Justice.

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Agency Spotlight–Eliot Ness

agents

Eliot Ness is one of the most famous federal agents in the history of law enforcement. He and his team, the Untouchables, broke organized crime in Chicago, which was dubbed the “crime capital of the world”. They put away famous criminals and gangsters, including Al Capone and became so well known that a comic strip was based on their stories, and the famous character Dick Tracy was born.

He entered service in 1926, and by that time three of the Treasury Departments six law enforcement arms—Prohibition Unit, Coast Guard, and Customs—were working together, sharing information, and conducting joint operations against the organized crime threat.

During his 10 years with ATF, Ness demonstrated he possessed intelligence, ability, honesty, and integrity. After cleaning up Chicago, he went on to clean up two other cities with corrupt law enforcement agencies; Cleveland and Cincinnati. He resigned after 10 years and became the Cleveland Public Safety Director. Criminals completely controlled the liquor industry. Assassinations, bombs, bullets, and corruption were routine. Bootleggers and gangsters who forged close ties with local authorities were common. Chicago was one of those cities.

agentsNess’ Chicago Assignment

Al Capone all but owned Chicago. The collective force of 3,000 police officers and 300 prohibition agents couldn’t bring down his empire. 1930 brought two major events that not only changed the course of Ness’ career but also redirected the federal law enforcement trajectory; ATF’s legacy in particular.

  • The first was the Bureau of Prohibition was transferred from the U.S Department of Treasury to the U.S. Department of Justice. Their mission increasingly focused on fighting violent crime.
  • The Second was President Herbert Hoover declared war against Capone. It set into motion a two-armed investigative attack on Capone. One led by the Bureau of Prohibition Investigative Division Special Agent Eliot Ness—ordered to cripple Capone’s operations and gather evidence of prohibition violations. The second led by lawmen Elmer Irey and Frank Wilson of the Internal Revenue Service. They investigated Capone’s finances for evidence of money laundering and tax evasion.

The team damaged Capone’s organization and it led to the indictment of Al Capone on over 5,000 prohibition violations under the Volstead Act. They also went on to successfully apprehend many of Chicago’s notorious gangsters and bootleggers.

agentsCincinnati and Cleveland Assignments

In September 1933, Ness transferred from Chicago to Cincinnati as a Sr. Investigator. Prohibition ended on December 5, 1933, and the Bureau of Prohibition was reorganized as the Alcohol Beverage Unit briefly before being transferred back to the Treasury Department as the Alcohol Tax Unit.

ATU faced many challenges. The country wasn’t prepared to re-establish the legal liquor industry because criminals continued to illegally produce and distribute distilled spirits. Organized crime once again rose. ATU seized many alcohol distilleries in the first few months after its creation. They managed to bring down large liquor syndicates, changing the perception of federal law enforcement, as well as the attitudes of prosecutors, juries, and courts.

agentsIn December 1934, Cleveland had a need for a lawman like Eliot Ness. The city was infested with so much crime and corruption that it earned a reputation as an untamed town. He was 31 years old when he arrived as the Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Treasury’s ATU in the northern district of Ohio. Thirty-four agents were under his command and they tracked down, raided, and destroyed a string of illegal liquor operations, earning a reputation of taking down a still a day.

Ness would serve as Investigator in Charge of the Cleveland Office of ATU until January 1, 1936, when he resigned to become the Cleveland Public Safety Director. His new position put him in charge of police and fire departments where he successfully headed a campaign to clean up corruption and modernize both service institutions.

Today, Eliot Ness symbolizes that no matter how challenging the times, circumstances, or mission, the badge continues to represent the tradition of “untouchable” honesty, integrity, and ethical behavior for those who serve and protect.

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Agency Spotlight–History of the ATF

revenue

The agency was formerly part of the U.S. Department of Treasury, which was formed in 1886 as the “Revenue Laboratory” within the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Internal Revenue. Their history can be traced back to a time of revenuers, or “revenoors” and the Bureau of Prohibition, formed as a unit of the Bureau of Internal Revenue in 1920. ATF was made an independent agency within the Treasury Department in 1927, transferred to the Justice Department in 1930 and briefly became a division of the FBI in 1933.

When the Volstead Act, which established Prohibition, was repealed in 1933, the unit was transferred from the Department of Justice back to the Department of Treasury, where it became the Alcohol Tax Unit (ATU) of the Bureau of Internal Revenue.

In 1942, responsibility for enforcing federal firearms laws was given to ATU. Then in the early 1950’s, the Bureau of Internal Revenue was renamed to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and ATU was given the additional responsibility of enforcing federal tobacco tax laws. ATU’s name was changed to Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division (ATTD).

With the passage of the Gun Control Act in 1968, the agency changed its name again to the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Division of the IRS and first started using the initials “ATF”.

In Title XI of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, Congress enacted the Explosives Control Act which provided for close regulation of the explosives industry and designated certain arsons and bombings as federal crimes. These responsibilities were designated to the ATF division of the IRS.

In 1972, ATF was established as a separate bureau within the Treasury Department when Treasury Department Order 221 (Effective July 1, 1972) transferred responsibilities of the ATF division of the IRS to the new Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.

During Rex D. Davis’ tenure (ATF’s first director), the primary mission of the agency became federal firearms and explosive laws addressing violent crimes. Taxation and other alcohol issues remained priorities as ATF collected billions of dollars in alcohol/tobacco taxes and undertook major revisions of federal wine labeling regulations.

In response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush signed the Homeland Security Act of 2002 into law. In addition to this creating the Department of Homeland Security, the law shifted ATF from the Department of Treasury to the Department of Justice. The agencies’ name was changed to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives—however, the agency is still referred to as ATF.

Also, the task of federal tax revenue collection derived from the production of tobacco/alcohol products and regulatory function related to protecting the public on issues related to the production of alcohol, previously handled by ATF, was transferred to the newly established Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).

The next post in this series will look at one of the most famous ATF agents, Eliot Ness.

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Agency Spotlight–ATF

atf

This month we will be spotlighting the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF).

Mission

Their mission is to protect the public from crimes involving firearms, explosives, arson, and the diversion of alcohol and tobacco products. They do this by regulating lawful commerce in firearms and explosives and provide worldwide support to law enforcement, public safety, and industry partners.

They strive to protect communities from violent criminals, criminal organizations, illegal use and trafficking of firearms, illegal use and storage of explosives, acts of arson and bombings, acts of terrorism, and illegal diversion of alcohol and tobacco products.

The major functions of ATF are to reduce the risk to public safety caused by:

  • Illegal firearms trafficking
  • Criminal possession and use of firearms
  • Criminal organizations and gangs
  • Bombs and explosives
  • Criminal use of fire
  • Reducing the loss of tax revenues caused by contraband alcohol and tobacco trafficking

They also want to improve public safety by increasing compliance with Federal laws and regulations by firearms industry members and explosives industry members.

Vision

They strive to be a world class law enforcement organization committed to safeguarding lives by protecting the public from violent crime.

Values

ATF pledges an unwavering personal and organizational commitment to:

  • Preserving and protecting human life and public safety
  • Fairness and respect for the worth, dignity, and diversity of all people
  • Supporting the well-being of all members of the ATF family
  • Professionalism, honesty, integrity, accountability, ethical behavior, and excellence
  • Innovation, critical thinking, continuous learning, and development
  • Uphold the Constitution and laws of the U.S. in the pursuit of justice

Responsibilities

Their responsibilities include investigation and prevention of federal offenses involving the unlawful use, manufacture, and possession of firearms and explosives; acts of arsons and bombings; and illegal trafficking of alcohol and tobacco products. They also regulate licensing the sale, possession, and transportation of firearms, ammunition, and explosives in interstate commerce. Many of these activities are carried out in partnership with task forces made up of state and local law enforcement officers.

Divisions

Alcohol and Tobacco

The goal of ATF’s Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement programs are the following:

  • Target, identify and dismantle criminal enterprises with ties to violent crime that traffic illicit liquor or contraband tobacco in interstate commerce.
  • Seize and deny their access to assets and funds.
  • Prevent their encroachment into the legitimate alcohol or tobacco industry.

Firearms

ATF targets, investigates, and recommends prosecution of these offenders to reduce the level of violent crimes and enhance public safety. They issue firearms licenses and conduct firearm licensee qualification and compliance inspections to curb illegal use of firearms and enforce federal firearms laws.

Explosives

Federal explosives law and regulations affect all persons who import, manufacture, deal in, purchase, use, store, or possess explosive materials. These regulations also affect those who ship, transport, or receive explosive materials.

Arson

ATF is the primary federal agency responsible for administering and enforcing criminal and regulatory provisions of federal laws pertaining to destructive bombs, explosives, and arson.

The next post about ATF will look at their history.

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