The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) has seen many changes since it origin in 1789. Originally established to tax the sale and distribution of alcohol, the ATF now posses more responsibilities in the world of law enforcement. It is important to understand the historical events and current changes that shaped the agency in the past several decades.
Events such as the Whiskey Rebellion defined the ATF in its early years (Kurian, 2008). With the ratification of the 18th Amendment, and the Volstead Prohibition Enforcement Act, the dawn of the Prohibition began (Trac Reports, 2007, p.1). With prohibition came bolstering of the enforcement aspect of the ATF, at that time considered the “Prohibition Unit” (History of TBB, 2006, p.1). “Taxation from alcohol was a huge aspect of the total revenue for the federal government prior to the creation of income taxes” (Kurian, 2008, p.2).
The ATF originally operated under the command of the Treasury Department. However, in January 2003, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 was ratified. “Rendering the functions of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms into two new organizations with separate functions, the Act created a new tax and trade bureau within the Department of the Treasury, and shifted certain law enforcement functions of the ATF to the Department of Justice”(History of TTB, 2006, p.1).
Currently the ATF functions under the command of the Department of Justice. Since September 11, 2001 the ATF began focusing on firearms and explosives almost exclusively, although the regulation of alcohol is still an aspect of the ATF. Looking specifically at the ATF field offices in Georgia, only one group out of 10 is responsible for alcohol related offenses and enforcement of regulations.
Learning the history of the ATF has given me a great deal of understanding in regards to the responsibilities of the agency. With the threat of violence and terrorism as a top priority of the American government, it is only fitting that the agency’s top priorities are violence associated with firearms and explosives. The ATF’s Mission:
“A unique law enforcement agency in the United States Department of Justice that protects our communities from violent criminals, criminal organizations, the illegal use and trafficking of firearms, the illegal use and storage of explosives, acts of arson and bombings, acts of terrorism, and the illegal diversion of alcohol and tobacco products. We partner with communities, industries, law enforcement, and public safety agencies to safeguard the public we serve through information sharing, training, research, and use of technology” (Kurian, 2008, p.1)
As I have spend all my time with the law enforcement aspect of the ATF, specifically ‘SAFE” (Suburban Area Firearms Enforcement), it is evident this agency stands by its mission statement and focuses on firearms and explosives.
As my internship has progressed my roles and responsibilities have change drastically. Initially, getting to know the agents was my top priority. The ATF field office in Atlanta is a great organization. They know and understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses, work well together, and communicate effectively. My first initiative when I arrived in late September was surviving the ‘pestering’ of the agents in my group. I took this as a form of initiation. I was assigned to group seven, which again is SAFE. There are roughly ten special agents (SA) in this group. Once I established relationships with the agents, I began to learn what goes on, what I could be a part of, and how I would fit in. It is difficult to pinpoint my role because I was all over the building, and all over town. One day I would be assigned changing the labels on evidence if the case switched groups. Another day I would have some down time to pry information out of the agents about this paper. And then other days I would be in the field, observing and...