Justice Department Announces New Violent Crime Reduction Initiative
Las Vegas, Nev. - Attorney General John Ashcroft, Deputy Attorney General James Comey, and Carl J. Truscott, Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, announced a new federal initiative aimed at reducing crime in fifteen U.S. communities. This initiative has placed teams of federal, state and local law enforcement officers and prosecutors in each selected city over the past several weeks. The goal of the program, called VCIT, or Violent Crime Impact Teams, is to identify and arrest the most violent offenders in each city.
The identified communities include: Albuquerque, NM; Baltimore, MD; Chattanooga, TN; Tampa, FL; Miami, FL; Richmond, VA; Greensboro, NC; Tulsa, OK; Pittsburgh, PA, Las Vegas, NV; Columbus, OH; Philadelphia, PA; Los Angeles, CA, Tucson, AZ; and the Washington, D.C./Northern Virginia region.
"The violent-crime rate has plunged to the lowest level in 30 years, but we view these impressive results as just the beginning. We are determined to drive down violent crime everywhere—especially in those places where habitual offenders are concentrated and communities live in fear of the violent and predatory," said Attorney General John Ashcroft. "Our goal is to make an immediate impact in these communities by targeting repeat offenders with tough prosecutions, and tough sentences. The Violent Crime Impact Teams will shift the balance of power in crime-plagued neighborhoods away from habitual offenders and toward the law-abiding citizens who live and work there."
The 15 cities were selected after examining a number of factors, including recent homicide and violent crime numbers, and the opportunity for law enforcement to make a significant difference in the community. In some of the targeted cities, crime rates have gone up and the VCIT teams aim to reduce that trend. In some cities, however, the crime rate has decreased. In those areas, the teams will focus on continuing and strengthening that trend.
As part of VCIT, federal, state and local law enforcement officers and agents from the ATF, DEA, FBI, U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Probation, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, North Las Vegas Police Department, and Henderson Police Department have been assigned to work the initiative for a period of approximately six months. Persons charged could be prosecuted in either federal or state court in Las Vegas.
"The goals of the VCIT initiative," said ATF Director Truscott, "are to decrease, within six months, the number of homicides, number of firearms related to homicides, number of violent crimes and number of violent firearms crimes. By applying our broad experience and unique expertise in combating gun crime, ATF and its partners will remove violent criminals from the community and help restore those communities into safe and desirable places to live and work."
The VCIT initiative takes a six-point approach to reducing violent crime:
• Use technology and human intelligence to identify geographic areas within 15 cities with violent firearms crime;
• Identify and target the worst violent offenders, the criminal organizations that support them, and determine how many of them are armed career criminals;
• Use criminal investigations as well as investigative tools and resources to disrupt and dismantle criminal activity being perpetrated by the targeted individuals and organizations;
• Arrest and prosecute the targeted individuals and their associates in the federal or state jurisdiction that lends itself to the most appropriate penalty;
• Work with community leaders to cultivate solid and sustained commitment between the community's residents and law enforcement; and
• Evaluate results on a monthly basis to assess VCIT progress toward achieving the initiative's goals.
VCIT has been designed to work in conjunction with Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a
comprehensive nationwide strategy geared toward combating gun crime in communities across the country. VCIT builds on the success of PSN, but adds additional resources to the target cities.
Under PSN, the number of federal firearms prosecutions increased 68 percent in the past three years. In FY 2003, the Justice Department filed more than 10,500 federal firearms cases, the highest number ever recorded by the Justice Department. Since its inception in 2001, more than $1 billion has been devoted to the implementation of PSN. This money has been used to hire additional prosecutors, provide training, hire research and community support staff, as well as to develop and promote effective prevention and deterrence efforts.
In Las Vegas, federal, state and local law enforcement officers and prosecutors have created a PSN strategy to fit the unique gun crime problem in southern Nevada. In October 2001, the Southern Nevada PSN Task Force was formed. Its members include the U.S. Attorney's Office, Clark County District Attorney's Office, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, Henderson Police Department, and North Las Vegas Police Department. The members meet once a week to review cases involving criminals using or possessing guns. Criminals who use or possess guns are prosecuted under federal or state laws, depending on which jurisdiction can provide the most appropriate punishment.
Through December 31, 2003, the Las Vegas PSN Task Force reviewed 1,206 cases involving gun crime. The crimes include felon in possession of a firearm, possession of a firearm during a drug trafficking offense or crime of violence, and possession of a firearm by a person convicted of a domestic violence offense.
In 2003, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Nevada in Las Vegas charged 186 individuals with federal gun crimes, the highest number ever recorded by the District of Nevada. The number of indictments returned charging federal gun crimes rose from 39 in 2001 to 147 in 2002, and to 162 in 2003, a record increase of over 400 percent. These figures are the highest on record in a single year since the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Nevada began recording this information.
Between July 1, 2003, and March 31, 2004, 66 individuals were convicted and sentenced in the United States District Court in Las Vegas for gun crime offenses. Approximately 65 percent convicted were sentenced to more than three years in prison, and approximately 36 percent convicted were sentenced to more than five years in federal prison.
The most recently published FBI statistics for southern Nevada indicate reductions in violent crime rates in Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, and Henderson, validating the effectiveness of the strategy.
In recognition of these outstanding achievements, the Southern Nevada PSN Task Force received an Honorable Mention award for Outstanding Partnership/Task Force at last week's National PSN Conference in Kansas City, Missouri. The Nevada team was one of only about 25 teams receiving an award. The other two task forces receiving an award for Outstanding Partnership/Task Force were the Northern District of Georgia (Atlanta) and the Northern District of Ohio.
"Through the efforts of the PSN team, we have removed hundreds of violent recidivist offenders from the Las Vegas community. Based on those successes, I am confident that the VCIT's will provide the means to strengthen and continue that trend,"said U.S. Attorney Bogden.