The federal agency tasked with investigating the illegal trafficking of guns has a new special agent in charge of Illinois and northern Indiana, and she is no stranger to the devastating impact of Chicago’s violence.
In November, Celinez Nunez was appointed to head up the Chicago field division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. She walked into her new job at a critical time. The city ended last year with the most homicides in nearly two decades, and the U.S. Department of Justice had just issued a scathing report into the unconstitutional practices of the Chicago Police Department.
Nunez talked to me about growing up on the city’s Northwest Side, how the city influenced her to pursue a career in law enforcement, what she thinks is fueling Chicago’s rise in gun violence and what she plans to do about it. Here are highlights from our conversation.
On how Chicago’s gun violence is personal
Celinez Nunez: I remember I was 8 years old and watching a Chicago cop come up our stairs and give my family the bad news that my 19-year-old cousin at the time, who had lived with us — he was like my brother — was beaten and murdered in the streets of Chicago. And that’s something that devastated my family and continues to devastate my family today.
But it’s one of the reasons why I went into law enforcement.
On what she thinks is behind the rising number of shootings
Nunez: I remember when I was a street agent here, and I started off in ’99, and coming back now, it’s a complete different city. I think, for me, it’s the structure. I don’t see the structure that these local gangs used to have back in the late-’90s and maybe early-2000s. It’s really scattered now. Before, I remember there were rules within gangs — you don’t shoot at kids, you don’t shoot and rob elderly people.
And so, the structure within these gangs had rules and I don’t see them now. And I think that has really changed the city a lot.
On her vision for the ATF in Chicago
Nunez: We’re putting together something called the Chicago Crime Gun Strike Force. It’s a multi-jurisdictional approach in bringing Chicago PD, Illinois State Police and our agents as well, and housing them altogether. So we can now look at not only the shootings that are occurring in certain districts, but also the shootings that are occurring on the expressway and see what’s the similarities and what’s going on. And our intelligence component will be able to tell us “this is what you need to focus on.”
We will be operational June 1 for an office space to house all of them.
On how she will measure success
Nunez: For me, the effectiveness would be, at the end of the year, how many trigger-pullers did we pull off the streets of Chicago, how many guns did we recover and did we stop firearms trafficking into the city. And that’s how I’m going to measure my success.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the ‘play’ button to listen to the entire interview.