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Fact Sheet: Department of Justice Comprehensive Efforts to Fight Gang Violence
The Department of Justice has enacted a comprehensive plan across its many components to effectively fight and limit the impact of gang violence nationwide. This plan includes two primary elements: Prioritize prevention programs to provide America’s youth, as well as offenders returning to the community, with opportunities that help them resist gang involvement; and ensure robust enforcement policies when gang-related violence does occur. This approach also recognizes the critical need for the Department to continue to work hand-in-hand with state and local law enforcement and local community groups.
Focused Attention in Each District
The Department established an Anti-Gang Coordination Committee to organize the Department’s wide-ranging efforts to combat gangs, which includes focusing needed attention in every region.
- Each United States Attorney has appointed an Anti-Gang Coordinator to provide leadership and focus to anti-gang efforts at the district level.
- The Anti-Gang Coordinators, in consultation with their state and local law enforcement and community partners, have developed comprehensive, district-wide strategies to address the gang problems in their districts.
Preventing Gang Violence
The first element in the Department’s approach to fighting gang violence starts at the root of the problem. The Department has organized and supported the following programs aimed at preventing youth entry into gangs, and giving recently released prisoners an alternative to gang membership.
- Gang Prevention Summits – In FY 2006, the Department directed each United States Attorney to convene a Gang Prevention Summit in his or her district designed to explore additional opportunities in the area of gang prevention. These summits brought together law enforcement and community leaders to discuss best practices, identify gaps in services, and create a prevention plan to target at-risk youth within their individual communities. The summits reached over 10,000 law enforcement officers, prosecutors, social service providers, prevention practitioners, and members of the faith-based community.
- G.R.E.A.T. Program - The Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) Program is a school-based, law enforcement officer-instructed elementary and middle school classroom curriculum that also includes a Families and Summer component. The program's primary objective is prevention and is intended as an immunization against delinquency, youth violence, and gang membership. G.R.E.A.T. lessons focus on providing life skills to students to help them avoid delinquent behavior and violence to solve problems. In FY 2007, the Department awarded nearly $15 million in funding for 167 local law enforcement G.R.E.A.T. programs.
- Gang Reduction Program – The Gang Reduction Program is designed to reduce gang activity in targeted neighborhoods by incorporating a broad spectrum of research-based interventions to address the range of personal, family, and community factors that contribute to juvenile delinquency and gang activity. The Gang Reduction Program funded pilot sites in four communities characterized by significant existing program investment, strong indicators of citizen involvement, and high rates of crime and gang activity. The sites are located in: 1) East Los Angeles 2) Milwaukee 3) North Miami Beach and 4) Richmond, Va..
- Helping America’s Youth Initiative – DOJ has played a major role in the President’s Helping America’s Youth initiative led by First Lady Laura Bush. This initiative features an online Community Guide that aids community coalitions in developing strategic gang and juvenile crime prevention programs, and provides a database of effective prevention programs.
- In addition, the DOJ has long supported gang prevention activities such as the National Youth Gang Center, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, while also developing gang prevention webcasts and publications which assist law enforcement and communities in addressing gang problems.
- Part of the Department’s prevention work focuses on providing opportunities to offenders who are reentering the community. Through prisoner reentry initiatives, including Going Home: the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative, the President’s Prisoner Reentry Initiative, and initiatives being developed through the Attorney General’s Comprehensive Anti-Gang Initiative, the Department has provided more than $100 million to develop programming, training, and reentry strategies at the community level to reduce recidivism and improve outcomes for participants.
Coordination, Intelligence and Enforcement
Through the National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC), Gang Targeting, Enforcement, and Coordination Center (Gang TECC), and Gang Squad the Department has established national coordination on intelligence and enforcement mechanisms aimed at dismantling the most significant violent national and regional gangs.
Coordination: The GangTECC brings together all of the operational components of the Department, as well as other agencies within the Federal Government to ensure that tactical and strategic intelligence is shared among law enforcement agencies, and serves as a central coordinating center for multi-jurisdictional gang investigations involving federal law enforcement agencies.
Intelligence: The NGIC integrates the gang intelligence assets of all Department of Justice agencies, and has established partnerships with other federal, state, and local agencies that possess gang-related information.
Enforcement: The Criminal Division’s Gang Squad is a core team of experienced anti-gang prosecutors who serve as the prosecutorial arm of the Department’s efforts to achieve maximum national impact against violent gangs.
Expanding Programs that Work
Project Safe Neighborhoods: In May 2001, President Bush announced Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a comprehensive initiative to reduce gun crime in America. In 2006, the Department of Justice expanded PSN to include new and enhanced anti-gang efforts. The goal is to use strategies and partnerships with state and local law enforcement and communities pioneered under PSN to shut down violent gangs in America.
- In FY 2007, the Department prosecuted 12,087 defendants on federal firearms cases. Nearly 94 percent of those offenders received prison terms and nearly 75 percent were sentenced to three or more years in prison.
- From FY 2001 to 2007, the Department of Justice has filed 68,543 cases against 83,106 defendants for federal firearms violations. This represents more than a 100 percent increase in cases filed over the prior seven year period.
Comprehensive Anti-Gang Initiative: In April 2007, the Department expanded the “Comprehensive Anti-Gang Initiative” from six to 10 sites nationwide. Today, the Deputy Attorney General announced the expansion of the initiative from 10 to 12 sites nationwide. The initiative provides anywhere from $2 to $2.5 million in targeted grant funding to each of the ten sites to implement a three prong strategy in the fight against gangs: prevention, enforcement and prisoner re-entry. The 12 sites include Los Angeles; Tampa, Fla; Cleveland, Ohio; Dallas/Ft. Worth; Milwaukee, Wis.; Eastern District of Pennsylvania’s “222 Corridor” which stretches from Easton to Lancaster; Rochester, N.Y.; Oklahoma City; Indianapolis, Ind.; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Chicago, IL and Detroit, MI.
- Focused enforcement efforts under the Comprehensive Anti-Gang Initiative are showing strong early results. In Cleveland, one of the most violent gangs and their associates, operating in and around the target area, have been dismantled through both federal and state investigations and prosecutions. These tough actions have resulted in 202 federal and state indictments. Through vigorous prosecutions, 163 defendants have been convicted and the remaining defendants await trial. In Cleveland’s target area, violent crime is down by more than 15 percent, including a 39% decline in homicides.
Initiative for Safer Communities
In May 2007, the Department launched a series of new and comprehensive initiatives designed to expand and enhance federal law enforcement efforts aimed at reducing violent crime, provide assistance to state and local law enforcement, and strengthen laws and increase funding. These efforts include:
- Focus on the “Worst of the Worst" - The Department, working with state and local law enforcement, identifies cases that focus on the “worst of the worst” offenders.
- Coordinated Fugitive Sweeps and Take downs - The Department has conducted coordinated fugitive sweeps and take downs in cities such as Cleveland; Modesto/Bakersfield, Calif.; Trenton/Newark/Jersey City, N.J.; Dallas; Gadsden, Ala.; and Los Angeles; and conducted Fugitive Safe Surrender operations in Akron, Ohio, Nashville and Memphis, Tenn.; Washington, D.C., and Indianapolis, Ind..
- Expansion of Task Forces – ATF expanded their Violent Crime Impact Teams (VCITs) to 31 cities, which includes teams in Los Angeles and San Bernardino, Calif; and the FBI has increased the number of Safe Street Task Forces (SSTFs) to 189, with 148 focusing on violent gangs and 41 focusing on violent crime.
- PSN Comprehensive Anti-Gang Training – The goal of the regional training is to improve the level of knowledge, communication, and collaboration involved in addressing the criminal gang issue impacting communities throughout the nation. The trainings have or will be offered in the following areas: Chapel Hill, N.C.; Nashville, Tenn.; Oklahoma City, Rochester, N.Y.; Spokane, Wash.; Houston; Birmingham, Ala.; Salt Lake City; Sacramento, Calif.; Lexington, Ky.; Omaha, Neb. and Chicago, IL.
- Targeting Violent Crime Initiative – The Department awarded nearly $75 million for 106 task forces to 103 state and local law enforcement agencies to target specific violent crime challenges in their jurisdiction and region. The initiative is driven by the intelligence-led policing strategy which requires the use of data-driven law enforcement responses to prevent and control crime as opposed to simply responding when crime occurs. The task forces are located throughout the U.S. and address issues including gun violence, gang violence, and drug-related violence.
- Violent Crime and Anti-Terrorism Act of 2007 – The Department’s proposed comprehensive legislation meant to ensure that federal law enforcement agencies are able to successfully investigate and prosecute many types of violent crime. The proposed bill would improve existing criminal laws to close gaps and strengthen penalties, provide greater flexibility in the penalties that could be imposed on federal firearms licensees who knowingly violate the Gun Control Act, and restore the binding nature of sentencing guidelines. The bill also includes provisions that strengthen laws pertaining to drug enforcement, terrorism and child pornography.
Supporting Local Law Enforcement
- The President’s FY 2009 budget request includes $200 million for Violent Crime Reduction Partnership grants that will support multi-jurisdictional task forces and increase the prosecution of gangs and violent criminals. The nearly $75 million in grants awarded in FY 2007 through the Targeting Violent Crime Initiative is considered an initial demonstration of the approach proposed in the President’s budget.
Combating Transnational Gangs
The Department’s comprehensive gang strategy also involves working with the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State and our international partners to fight gangs that operate both in the United States and other countries. These efforts include:
- The Merida Initiative and U.S. Anti-Gang Efforts - Parallel with its efforts to combat gangs domestically, the Department has drastically expanded efforts to attack the links that connect transnational gang members across the region, especially in Mexico and Central America. The Department’s efforts to further combat transnational gangs is part of the President’s Merida Initiative, aimed at strengthening our borders, regional security and effective law enforcement, especially against violent crime.
- U.S. Anti-Gang Strategy – The Department has lead responsibility for implementing the law enforcement components of the Strategy to Combat the Threat of Criminal Gangs from Central America and Mexico, adopted by the U.S. Government in 2007. The Strategy is a key component of the overall Merida Initiative, and recognizes that effectively combating violent gangs at home requires combating violent gangs abroad. A series of recent initiatives aim to reduce the danger and the violence posed by transnational gangs. As part of this strategy, the Department announced in June 2007 the indictment by the Criminal Division’s Gang Squad and the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland of two leaders of the transnational street gang La Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), who were alleged to have directed the murder of rival gang members in the United States from their prison cells in El Salvador.
- Improved International Coordination – The Department continues to enhance international partnerships in the fight against transnational gangs.
- Anti-Gang Initiatives – One example of the progress made by the Department of Justice is the comprehensive, four-part, regional initiative on combating transnational gangs launched by the Department in El Salvador on February 5, 2007. These initiatives are strengthening efforts to identify and prosecute the most dangerous Salvadoran gang members through programs to enhance gang enforcement, fugitive apprehension, international coordination, information sharing and training and prevention. This series of initiatives includes:
- Vetted Anti-Gang Units – In fall 2007 the FBI, the Department’s Criminal Division and the Department of State assisted El Salvador's National Civilian Police (Policia Nacional Civil, or PNC) in creating a new Transnational Anti-Gang (TAG) unit to better pursue and prosecute gang members. FBI agents provide front-line training and information-sharing, increasing the ability of the PNC to identify and arrest the worst offenders. FBI has agents in the country to directly support the TAG unit. At the request of El Salvador, the FBI, USMS, DEA, ATF and other law enforcement agencies are conducting a series of joint assessments (a pilot program) of anti-gang capabilities in El Salvador, identifying the best strategic options for El Salvador in undertaking additional steps to enhance domestic and regional anti-gang efforts.
- CAFÉ Fingerprint Initiative - The FBI, with funding support from the State Department, has accelerated the implementation of the Central American Fingerprinting Exploitation (CAFE) initiative in order to better identify, track and apprehend gang members. CAFE has provided equipment and training to help law enforcement agencies in El Salvador and other Central American nations acquire digital fingerprints of violent gang members and other criminals who commit crimes under different identities in different countries. FBI is working to expand the CAFÉ initiative to Guatemala and Honduras in 2008, and expects to expand the initiative to other Central American nations in the future. Complementing this step forward, the Justice Department has supported implement by the Department of Homeland Security of its Electronic Travel Document (eTD) System. This provides law enforcement officials in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador with information on Salvadoran gang members and other criminals who are being deported from the U.S. to their home nations after serving criminal sentences in the U.S.
- International Anti-Gang Training - The U.S. has vastly increased its anti-gang training in Central America, including efforts through the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) in San Salvador. Since 2006, the Department has led or participated in a series of four regional anti-gang training programs at the ILEA, bringing both police investigators and prosecutors from throughout the region to the Academy for anti-gang training. The curriculum covers best practices in targeting and fighting gang activity and other crimes. The Department’s Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training (OPDAT) has developed and is coordinating a series of three additional anti-gang training programs at the ILEA that will stretch out into 2009. Agencies participating as instructors are FBI, ATF, USMS, DHS, Interpol and Gang Squad.