United States Attorney Timothy J. Heaphy
Remarks from Press Conference with Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli
Good morning and thank you all for being here. As most of you know, my name is Tim Heaphy and I am the United States Attorney for the Western District of Virginia.
I am pleased to be joined today by Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli, Virginia Deputy Secretary for Public Safety John Buckovich, and Roanoke City Police Chief Chris Perkins.
We have asked you here today to speak about the pressing issue of violent crime in our communities, and the ways in which the Justice Department, in coordination with our state and local partners, is working to prevent violent crime.
I am pleased to introduce all of you to Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli. Tom came down from Washington to describe United States Attorney General Eric Holder’s nationwide anti-violence strategy - a holistic approach to violence prevention that communities throughout the country have begun implementing. He has been gracious enough to come to Roanoke to describe the national strategy, and to learn more about our efforts to implement that strategy in the Western District of Virginia.
AAG THOMAS PERRELLI SPEAKS
Good morning. I would like to thank U.S. Attorney Heaphy for having me here today and for joining us in this important discussion about how to make the Roanoke community safer and stronger, as well as improving communities big and small, urban, suburban and rural all across the country.
Although we can be encouraged that violent crime rates are down nationwide, we must do more to better protect our children and communities, hold criminals accountable, and transform our most vulnerable and dangerous neighborhoods.
We know that a concerted focus on helping our young people avoid lives of violence and crimes, and providing support to those who’ve served their time and are struggling to rejoin and contribute to communities, is a proven public safety approach. It also makes economic sense.
When we are both tough and smart on crime, positive results are attainable.
And that’s why United States Attorney General Eric Holder, when he first took office, challenged the 94 U.S. Attorneys across the country to develop an anti-violence strategy to address and curb violent crime locally, through robust engagement with our community partners– like those who attended our forum this morning – with a holistic approach involving effective crime prevention, intervention, enforcement and reentry strategies.
As evidenced today, the Department has taken this challenge seriously and we are well on our way to implementing this strategy in communities across the country. I am especially pleased to be here with Tim Heaphy, who is leading our anti-violence strategy efforts among the U.S. Attorney community. Roanoke and the Western District of Virginia are lucky to have him, and his level of dedication to this issue.
II. Anti-Violence Strategy
The idea is that federal prosecutors should listen to communities, identify needs, and deploy resources to meet those needs. It is a proactive model, one which counts heavily on close coordination between federal, state and local partners.
Nowhere is the “community problem solver” model more important than in the area of violent crime. The suppression of violence is one of the Justice Department’s central priorities. Maintaining public safety in the face of violence is and will always be one of our core functions.
The plan is fairly simple. The AG’s anti-violence strategy uses a “three-legged stool” approach: one leg focuses on vigorous law enforcement; one leg invests in evidenced-based prevention programs and one leg supports viable reentry initiatives. A strategy that without any one leg, fails to achieve its full potential.
Again, I am pleased to be with you here today because I feel so strongly about this issue and it gives me great optimism to see the energy and commitment in this room.
U.S. Attorney Heaphy will now discuss more about the details of how the strategy is being implemented in Roanoke.
U.S. ATTORNEY TIMOTHY HEAPHY SPEAKS
Thanks again, Tom, for being here with us today. We all appreciate your time and leadership on this important issue.
A. State/Local Coordination
As Tom said, the success of the Attorney General’s anti-violence strategy depends upon close coordination among federal, state and local officials. Such coordination will ensure that we gather reliable intelligence about violent crime within our communities - intelligence that will be the foundation for implementation of the strategy. We have to determine where to spend our time and resources if this strategy is going to have real impact. Gathering reliable intelligence about violence requires listening. Listening to police and local government officials. Listening to people who work within communities outside of government.
It isn’t hard to determine where violence thrives. What is hard and time-consuming is the identification of the various pieces to the solution. Which police agencies are focused on the problem? Which community groups and individuals are successfully preventing violence?
Gathering this kind of information requires time spent in these communities - time spent listening to the people who live and work there. We have to get out from behind our desks and actually engage with people who do this important work. Without that willingness to listen, we won’t have near the impact that we can have if we work wisely, smartly, and with a careful understanding of the communities that we seek to improve.
B. Vigorous Enforcement
Once we gather intelligence, we must plant the three-legged stool of violence prevention which Tom described earlier. The first leg of that stool is perhaps the most obvious– enforcement. The central mission of all prosecutors is the enforcement of laws, specifically those which punish violence and are enforced against the most dangerous offenders.
The key here is to target and coordinate our enforcement efforts. Those of us who work in law enforcement know that a small percentage of people commit a disproportionately large share of the serious violent crime in this and every other community. We have to focus our enforcement efforts on repeat violent offenders - the gang recruiters, the wholesale drug sellers, the people who perpetuate the cycle of violence in our most dangerous communities. We can’t let enforcement be reactive and arrest-driven. Rather, it should be targeted and smart - devoted to apprehending and incarcerating the most dangerous offenders in our communities.
We also have to ensure that law enforcement personnel at all levels work closely together. There are many federal agencies that enforce the laws against violent crime. Those federal agencies must align their efforts. It is also essential that they work closely with state and local counterparts. We have to ensure that information about violent crime and violent criminals is shared among agencies. We need to work together on particular investigations and avoid competition and turf battles. We have to pull together as a law enforcement family if we are to be most effective in this crucial area of joint concern.
C. Support for Viable Crime Prevention
As I have said many times over the past year and one-half -- we cannot arrest our way to safer communities. As important as those enforcement efforts will be, they alone will not solve the violent crime problem. If we are to have real success in making communities safer, we need to combine our enforcement efforts with support for viable crime prevention and robust prisoner reentry programs.
The second leg of the Attorney General’s three-legged stool involves support for crime prevention programs. We need to support organizations working to empower communities - the same communities in which violence persists. We need to focus on forces, influences, catalysts and causes which feed violent behavior. We have to try our best to divert people, particularly young people, from violence.
We must support prevention activities in exactly the same communities where we are most active on the enforcement front. We have to coordinate our enforcement and prevention efforts - co-locate them in precisely the same neighborhoods. If we don’t do this simultaneously, new threats will emerge as we eliminate existing threats. Someone new will step forward when another is taken down.
The Department’s support for crime prevention has never been greater. Crime prevention is something about which the Attorney General himself feels strongly. He understands that if we are going to achieve any sort of success we need to not only lock up violent offenders but also support those programs already in place that keep the next generation of offenders from taking the road toward violent criminal activity.
D. Active Prisoner Reentry Programs
Similar to prevention is the issue of prisoner reentry. The Attorney General has called repeatedly for increased support of reentry programs. The anti-violence strategy incorporates that support. It acknowledges that we must do more for the people who have the motivation and skills to reenter society and contribute to the community, rather than victimize it.
Research shows that ex-convicts face uphill battles in terms of employment and recidivism. Many of them come out of prison without so much as a driver’s license - which is unobtainable given unpaid fines imposed in their prior cases. They have a difficult time finding work and a decent place to live. They face tremendous obstacles which make it difficult for them to contribute to our communities in a meaningful way.
Thankfully, there is an increasing array of resources available to help motivated ex-offenders overcome those obstacles. Since 2008, federal support for reentry programs has dramatically increased. Congress passed the Second Chance Act and provided 100 million dollars to fund its provisions, much of which takes the form of grants to governmental and non-governmental reentry programs. This money is already working around the country to help ex-offenders make meaningful contributions.
Our elected leaders at the state level have also acknowledged the utility of successful reentry programs. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has made prisoner reentry one of his central public safety priorities, and he’s backed up that priority with increased state funding. He is right on this issue, as he realizes that money spent on reentry now saves resources down the road. I want to thank John Buckovich, who is here from the Governor’s Office, for his and the Governor’s strong supporter for prisoner reentry programs. Virginia has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the nation, thanks in large part to the support the Commonwealth gives to offenders reentering our communities.
IV. Application of the Anti-Violence Strategy in Roanoke
United States Attorneys around the country are implementing this strategy, planting “three-legged stools” squarely within communities where violent crime remains a problem. We are doing it right here in Roanoke, which is what I want to turn to next.
We chose to announce and implement this new nationwide initiative in Roanoke, not because the city is more dangerous or home to more violent criminals than other parts of the district, but because the foundation of strong, progressive leadership in the law enforcement field and in groups working on crime prevention is so prevalent.
Roanoke City Police Chief Chris Perkins is a tremendous asset to the city. His progressive approach to crime prevention and law enforcement have already begun paying dividends for the city with the implementation of a Drug Market Intervention.
Roanoke is also home to a large list of superlative service organizations working together to prevent violent crime. The people in these organizations work hard every day to divert young people from crime, help addicts, protect and stop violence against women and support reentering offenders.
We have enlightened leaders on the federal bench in Roanoke. United States District Judges Samuel Wilson and Michael Urbanski have each created reentry courts in Roanoke. Working with the United States Probation Officers, these judges provide increased services to prisoners who have been recently released from federal prison. The prisoners have the incentive of decreased time on supervision if they avail themselves of the probation officer’s assistance and remain arrest-free and productive. Judge Urbanski’s reentry court works with veterans. Working with folks at the VA in Salem and in Washington, he has implemented a unique program for vets who struggle with substance abuse. These reentry courts are already showing success and are models for others around the country.
All of these factors provide the foundation we need to implement the Attorney General’s anti-violence strategy successfully and change our community for the better. Those of us who work in the US Attorney’s Office are ready to work with this encouraging raw material and help make this community safer.
Let me talk more specifically about how we are implementing the Attorney General’s anti-violence strategy in Roanoke.
As I said before, targeting the most violent individuals and removing them from our neighborhoods is and will always be our core function. We had some recent success in violent crime prosecution in the RICO case brought against members of a violent street gang called the “Goonz.” In the Goonz case, we started with a series of unsolved home invasions that seemed similar. We put together a team of investigators that included federal officials from ATF and Roanoke City and County police officers. This team worked well together, and they were able to identify a group of young men which was involved in these violent home invasions. Their investigation led to a successful RICO prosecution of these gang members. The Goonz case was successful in taking a violent element within this community off the streets and putting them in federal prison, where they belong.
I don’t want to get too much into the details of the Goonz case except to point out one important statistic. In a 16-month period from the middle of 2008 through 2009, prior to the prosecution of the Goonz, there were 87 home invasion robberies in the City of Roanoke. In 2010, following the prosecution of the Goonz, there were 11 reported home invasion robberies. That decline is attributable to the fine work of these investigators and our prosecutors. It shows that targeted enforcement makes communities safer.
In addition to the Goonz matter, federal, state and local police are working in particular neighborhoods to target violent offenders and bring them to justice. We will build upon the success of the Goonz case and take advantage of our cooperative relationships to continue this important work.
We haven’t just been locking people up. We’ve also been lifting them up. When I became US Attorney, I wanted our office to focus more on crime prevention. With support from the Department, we created a new position in the US Attorney’s Office to focus exclusively on crime prevention and reentry. Our Community Outreach Coordinator Gwen Mason has been here for almost a year now, and she has been a tremendous asset to this community and the entire Western District. Gwen supports crime prevention and reentry programs in a number of ways. First, she has helped us understand specific and criminal justice challenges in the diverse communities in this district. She has convened meetings which by now have reached over 2,800 people interested in these issues. She brings together many different individuals and organizations working on prevention and reentry solutions within communities. She disseminates to them information about successful programs. Perhaps most significantly, she identifies federal grant opportunities and helps connect local organizations with technical and other assistance as they apply for those grant funds. Gwen is doing marvelous things here. My hope is that Tom Perrelli and others in Washington agree and use her new position as a model for similar positions across the country.
Roanoke has these successful crime prevention tools:
Successful schools. The first line of defense against choosing a criminal life is education. Academic programs such as Forest Park Academy, tailored to over age high school students completing their course work online, is improving graduation rates in the city.
Collaboration among non profits and the police department to address the root causes of gangs. The Boys and Girls Clubs of Southwest Virginia, Total Action Against Poverty and Straight Street have worked hard to disrupt criminal street gangs through programming focused on serving disadvantaged youth. Several of these organizations recently joined together to apply for a grant administered by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, a component of the Department of Justice. These organizations hope to use the OJJDP money to pull apart the social bonds that allow street criminal gangs to function as ongoing criminal organizations. Their comprehensive strategy will use suppression, rehabilitation, diversion, prevention and education. Children enrolled in this program will work with a team of professionals working to change their path from crime and drugs to a world of college tours, DARE camp, and opportunities for productive citizenship.
Right here in Roanoke, we have several ongoing reentry programs. I’ve already described the reentry courts administered by Judges Wilson and Urbanski.
Also here in Roanoke, Virginia CARES provides leadership and statewide reentry services. They plan to pursue Second Chance Act funding, in collaboration with the Western Virginia Regional Jail, one developing a reentry docket for Franklin and Montgomery Counties and the City of Salem.
Of course, the City of Roanoke has long had a successful drug court, one with a proven record of getting drug and alcohol abusers the substance abuse treatment they need to get our of the penal system and on to productive, sober, drug free life paths.
Organizations like Bethany Hall help drug addicted women. It is a resource for court ordered placements, and one of only two long term programs in Virginia exclusively geared toward women.
Total Action Against Poverty, and Virginia Cares, works with ex-offenders to help transition them from prisoners to productive citizens.
I’d like now to turn the podium over to two of our most important partners in the anti-violence effort in Roanoke. First, Deputy Secretary Secretary of Public Safety John Buckovich. John is a former Richmond City police officer, so he knows the issues of violence from literally the ground up. He and the Secretary of Public Safety Marla Decker have been valuable partners to me and my colleague Neil MacBride in the Eastern District. We are working together to implement this Anti-violence strategy, and to find ways to improve public safety in Virginia. John - welcome to Roanoke.
DEPUTY SECRETARY JOHN BUCKOVICH SPEAKS
I’m also pleased to be joined today by Roanoke City Police Chief Chris Perkins. In the short time Chris has been Chief, he has provided enlightened leadership to his Department. He has extended his hand and his ear into the diverse communities of Roanoke. I am excited about the prospect of working with him to implement the Drug Market Intervention Program which he is bringing to Roanoke. He and his proud officers are important partners in the implementation of the Anti-violence strategy. I’m thrilled that he is participating in these events, and I’d like to invite him to say a few words now.
ROANOKE POLICE CHIEF CHRIS PERKINS SPEAKS
Finally, I want to thank our hosts for the forum and this news conference - the Gainsboro YMCA - for their gracious hospitality.
We operate in a time of severe austerity. We have less money to tackle all of these difficult challenges. The budget situation makes it more important than ever that we be proactive, not reactive. We cannot sit back and wait for violent crime to find us. Instead we should work together with local service providers to ensure that after we lock up the most dangers and violent offenders in our communities the next generation of criminals is not waiting to move right in behind them. Law enforcement officials and prosecutors cannot do this on our own. We need the help of the community and of local service providers already serving our community in this manner.
We serve in a truly unique time in Virginia. We are fortunate that the senior leadership at both the Department of Justice in Washington and in Richmond recognize the need for crime prevention and reentry efforts. We must seize this moment and turn it into results.
Thank you all for coming. We will now answer any questions you may have regarding the Anti-violence strategy or how we are implementing it here in Roanoke.