Inside the WMPD: A look at the ATF Task Force
Getting guns out of the hands of criminals in the community By Michael Coulter
A Times Special Feature
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth in a series of articles on the West Memphis Police Department, its officers and bold initiatives that are factors in the city’s noticeable reduction in serious crime over the past several months.
This fourth article goes into the WMPD partnership with the federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the impact it is having on reducing felony gun violence as well as solving previous gun related crimes in West Memphis and elsewhere.
West Memphis has had a reputation of individuals, particularly those with ill intentions, of having lots of guns, many of which are involved in some type of crime from armed robbery to homicide, a situation that the West Memphis Police Department’s Alcohol Tobacco & Firearms Task Force officer is taking very seriously.
In fact, in just 37 days of the new year, 51 guns have been confiscated for one reason or the other, Lt. Harvey Taylor, who is in charge of the department’s special task force that partners with the federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Division said. Four of those weapons were reported as stolen.
Created last year, this new partnership has already been credited with tracing the background on scores of guns confiscated in West Memphis and has led to the discovery of several being stolen. Upon tracing the serial numbers from the weapons Taylor has been able to determine when it was purchased, exactly how many times it had been sold and even where it was stolen.
“What this does is provide us with valuable information that has led to suspects being arrested as well as providing other law enforcement agencies an opportunity to solve a stolen weapons case that they may not have been able to do in the past,” Taylor said. Taylor, who began his law enforcement career with the WMPD in 2008 as a patrolman, was promoted to the detective division in 2011, made sergeant in 2012 and then lieutenant in 2019, when he was also named ATF task force officer.
“My daily routine every morning is to read every report from the previous night. Any guns that were collected are taken by me to Memphis where they are test fired and pertinent information analyzed,” Taylor said.
He went on to say that the work that he does has been credited with solving criminal offenses in not only West Memphis but elsewhere.
“If we get a stolen gun off a suspect we immediately try to identify where the weapon was stolen and determine if it had been involved in
other crimes. If we can put a gun in somebody’s hands we are likely to be able to solve a crime,” Taylor said.
Taylor echoed what others within the WMPD who said it is all about communication.
“Communication is the key to everything that is driving our crime rate down in West Memphis. It is not just communication within our department but also surrounding law enforcement agencies, including federal authorities.
“Information we keep to ourselves just doesn’t help anybody,” Taylor added.
Taylor cited an example of how effective his job is by saying he can take a gun that may be 20 years old and no paper work as to when it was sold or the identity of the original owner and within a short period of time trace its entire history as to the owners, how many times it may have been sold as well as determining if and where it may have been stolen.
“With that information we are also able to identify possible suspects who may have stolen the weapon or if they have used the weapon in a criminal act,” Taylor
He said the department’s partnership with the federal ATF greatly helps with prosecuting those involved in gun related crimes.
“Investigating these crimes on the federal level rather in the local court system results in longer prison sentences and stiffer punishment.
State convictions usually results in an average of a five year prison time and a release in as little as six months whereas being convicted in a federal court is at least 10 years. Those criminals with previous convictions are sentenced to a minimum of 15 years.
“The positive aspect of this is that the criminals know this and because of the longer prison time and a little chance of getting out early they aren’t committing crime in West Memphis at nearly the level they once did,” Taylor said.
He said what he and other divisions within the WMPD are doing is targeting criminals and are now taking a lot of guns off the streets of West Memphis.
Currently Taylor is the only officer assigned to the task force but there are currently plans to assign a deputy with the Crittenden County Sheriff ’s Office. Both agencies are now working together in a joint effort.
Taylor said the ATF is encouraging local law enforcement agencies to create what the WMPD has in place because it has already proven to solve gun related felonies that have been difficult to do in the past.
The Times’ in-depth look at the West Memphis Police Department and its efforts to reduce and prevent crime in the community concludes on Wednesday with a look at the Violent Crimes Suppression