Justice News

Department of Justice
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, December 6, 2018

Acting Attorney General Matthew G. Whitaker Recognizes Outstanding Contributions to Project Safe Neighborhoods in 2018 Awards Ceremony

Today, Acting Attorney General Matthew G. Whitaker hosted the 2018 Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) National Conference’s Award Ceremony in Kansas City, Missouri, to recognize individuals, task forces, and organizations for their dedication and contribution to the success of PSN.

"Project Safe Neighborhoods is making our prosecutions more targeted and more effective—and that makes the American people safer," said Acting Attorney General Whitaker. "Today the Department recognizes 16 examples of those who go above and beyond the call of duty in using PSN to reduce violent crime. We had a lot of impressive nominees, but even with tough competition, these 16 stood out. I want to thank each one of them for their service and congratulate them on a job well done."

This year, 16 awards were presented in six categories:

The award for Outstanding Individual Contribution to the PSN Program is the Department’s award to those in law enforcement who individually pioneered this frontier of justice.

 

Robert C. Troyer

Former United States Attorney

District of Colorado

Former United States Attorney Robert Troyer helped create and lead one of the very first Crime Gun Intelligence Centers (CGICs) in the country. His tireless support of the CGIC in Denver, Colorado, was instrumental to its success. As a result of Troyer’s vision, leadership, and commitment to violent crime reduction, two additional CGICs are now operating in Colorado, enabling quick reaction to and revealing new connections between gun crimes being committed in the most violent places in the state. The CGIC approach Troyer pioneered serves as a national model for effectively using NIBIN, gun shot detection systems, training and other intelligence to identify current shooters and ensure their prosecution in the most appropriate jurisdiction. The ATF now has CGICs in each of its 25 field offices and Troyer has consulted with U.S. Attorneys’ offices nationwide as they have integrated CGICs into their PSN programs. His effort and energy for this violent crime reduction strategy have had a significant impact not only in the District of Colorado, but nationwide.

 

Captain Paul Lusczynski

Violent Crime Bureau

Tampa Police Department

Middle District of Florida

In response to a significant rise in shootings in Tampa, Florida, Captain Paul Lusczynski designed and implemented a strategy known as the Violent Impact Player (VIP) program, which has had a direct and substantial impact on driving down violent crime in Tampa. Captain Lusczynski studied lessons learned from targeted and prioritized enforcement strategies throughout the United States and tailored them to Tampa’s unique needs. Using a broad set of criteria, including violent crime indicators such as criminal history, known criminal use of violence and weapons, and gang membership, the Tampa Police Department (TPD) identified the most violent offenders in its jurisdiction. At a weekly meeting, federal, state, and local law enforcement discuss the individuals and screen cases for the most appropriate jurisdiction for prosecution. A 2017 study credits the VIP program with a 7.9% drop in violent crime. Captain Lusczynski created a culture of interagency cooperation that yielded tremendous results for the community and the Tampa VIP model is now being replicated in other cities. Captain Lusczynski has displayed leadership, vision, and devotion to duty that are in keeping with the highest traditions of American law enforcement.

 

Didi Nelson

Law Enforcement Coordination Manager

Northern District of Georgia

Since the beginning of PSN in 2001 through its reinvigoration in 2017, Didi Nelson has been a guiding light for PSN in the Northern District of Georgia and beyond. Nelson – who has more than 30 years of service to the Department – has worked to implement the PSN program faithfully and consistently since its inception. She is the bridge between the Department and local and state law enforcement whose partnership is so crucial for PSN’s success. Nelson has also worked to create strong relationships with the community and has been instrumental in creating connections with non-traditional partners, such as social service providers, faith-based organizations and other groups. As a result of her commitment, credibility, and extensive knowledge of PSN, the district’s reinvigorated PSN strategy has expanded rapidly since the fall of 2017 and spread the USAO’s anti-violence initiatives into every county of the District. Nelson continues to impact the PSN program nationwide by serving as an expert to other Districts in the country that are seeking to develop effective PSN strategies of their own.

 

Trisha Stein

Director of Administrative Operations

City of Detroit Police Department

Eastern District of Michigan

Trisha Stein has played an important coordination role in the Eastern District of Michigan’s PSN program. Stein is responsible for interfacing with PSN task force members, fiscal agents, and her internal administration to ensure the Detroit PSN program is successfully executed. Stein interfaces with agency heads, program managers, and community and faith leaders to ensure everyone remains focused on the goals of PSN. Stein is also responsible for local oversight and leveraging resources from most grant-funded programs. She is familiar with all the grants awarded to the city and leverages those resources so that the outcome is a force multiplier for all programs. There is no doubt Stein’s efforts to oversee, coordinate and facilitate the moving parts of PSN played a key role in the program’s success. Homicides are at the lowest level in 50 years, and fatal and non-fatal shooting are down by over 30%.

 

Gary Mervis

Founder

Camp Good Days and Special Times/Partners Against Violence Everywhere

Western District of New York

Gary Mervis changes lives. After his daughter was diagnosed with cancer, he single-handedly founded what is today one the largest and most successful camps for sick children in the world. Following his daughter’s death, Mervis decided to broaden his reach in helping others. Using the many connections he made while creating Camp Good Days and Special Times, Mervis set out to curb the growing violent crime problem in Rochester by establishing Partners Against Violence Everywhere (PAVE). Through his leadership, partners from state and federal law enforcement, business alliances, faith-based groups, education leaders, hospitals, and social services  were brought together to effect positive change in the community. PAVE has served as the platform on which Rochester’s violent crime reduction projects have launched, including the long-running Project Exile effort. For over 20 years, Mervis has led the Project Exile Board and ensured that it remains the model for how law enforcement and the community can work together to effectuate lasting change. The PAVE/Exile board and partnerships formed the base for the original PSN efforts and have been supporting the program, and its reinvigoration, ever since.

 

Sarah Wannarka

Chief of Major Crimes

San Antonio Division

Western District of Texas

Since the 1990s, people living in the east side of San Antonio have fallen victim to the growing swell of gang violence. The Bloods and Crips openly fought for control of the residential area through drive by shootings and murders. In the summer of 2017, the violence peaked when a 4-year old was shot and killed while playing video games with his 8-year old brother in their own home. Assistant United States Attorney Sarah Wannarka indicted members of the gang involved in that shooting. She also led a federal and state multi-agency law enforcement effort that fought to return peace to this neighborhood. Her efforts resulted in a federal indictment against 21 members of the Bloods and Crips, 189 state and local arrests, the seizure of 67 firearms, and nearly $200,000 worth of drugs being taken off the streets. In addition to her impactful caseload, AUSA Wannarka  leads  the PSN efforts in the District and ensures seamless coordination between the many task force members. She has engaged prevention service providers to participate in the program and spends countless hours of her personal time in community outreach activities, connecting the communities to the PSN program and to law enforcement more generally.

 

The award for Outstanding Overall Partnership/Task Force is the Department’s award to the groups of individuals that made the greatest impact for Project Safe Neighborhoods as we continue to bring peace to pair with the prosperity of all Americans.

 

Project EJECT Task Force

Southern District of Mississippi

In December 2017, the Southern District of Mississippi launched its PSN task force to combat violent crime occurring in Jackson, MS. The United States Attorney’s Office, ATF, DEA, FBI, and VSMS joined forces with HSI, the Jackson Police Department, Hinds County District Attorney’s Office, Mississippi State Crime Laboratory, city councilmen, community leaders, non-profits, and faith leaders to form Project EJECT, a holistic, multi- disciplinary approach to combating violent crime. EJECT stands for “Empower Jackson Expel Crime Together.” Project EJECT employs four platforms: prevention; prosecution; reentry and rehabilitation; and awareness. In addition to undertaking significant enforcement efforts, members of the task force conduct prevention activities at schools and non- profits, and engage the  community  through  regular town hall meetings. This coordinated and comprehensive approach helped reduce violent crime in the city of Jackson by over 16% in the last year.

 

Dallas PSN Task Force

Northern District of Texas

Formed in April 2018, the Dallas PSN Task Force is comprised of more than 60 individual officers and agents from at least 11 different local and federal partners, local government and schools, and more than 15 community stakeholder organizations. The goals of the Task Force are threefold: (1) to eliminate violence in the target area and reduce violence in Dallas as a whole; (2) to engage the community in the effort; and (3) to develop effective strategies for re- entry and prevention particularly as it relates to youth in the area. The law enforcement subcommittee of the Task Force has developed a close partnership through weekly meetings and close collaboration, which has led to over 100 arrests of violent individuals. In addition, over the last six months alone, the Task Force and its community engagement subcommittee have participated in over 40 community meetings and events designed to engage the community, including a large unity festival that served more than 1,000 citizens. The Task Force has also engaged in extensive outreach at schools and with local businesses and has translated its PSN materials into eight different languages due to the diverse population in the target enforcement area. The Task Force holds a monthly reentry night, where its  members  have  met with approximately 300 people returning from prison or beginning probation. Importantly,  the  Task Force has opened new lines of communication between residents and law enforcement in the target enforcement area that did not previously exist.

 

The award for Outstanding Local Prosecutor’s Office/Local Prosecutor is the Department’s award to the offices and attorneys that set the greatest example that we should consummately strive to emulate.

 

West Valley City Prosecutor’s Office

District of Utah

Since the inception of PSN, the West Valley City Prosecutor’s Office has dedicated a full-time prosecutor as a Special Assistant United States Attorney (SAUSA) to exclusively prosecute federal firearm cases. The West Valley City Prosecutor’s Office SAUSA has successfully prosecuted hundreds of federal violent crime cases. Through strategic enforcement, the Office has focused its efforts on  the most violent criminals, especially violent gang members, domestic violence abusers, and armed drug traffickers. The efforts of the Office have led    to the removal of the most violent armed criminals from West Valley. And for most of the 18 years, West Valley has not received any federal compensation for the dedicated SAUSA. The West Valley SAUSA has always been one of the top PSN producers for the District of Utah, and the district’s PSN success is, in large part, a result of the dedication of the West Valley City Prosecutor’s Office.

 

Branden B. Miles

Weber County Prosecutor’s Office

District of Utah

Branden Miles is one of the longest tenured SAUSAs in the District of Utah and has made one of the greatest contributions to the Utah’s PSN program.  As a state prosecutor in the Weber County Attorney’s Office, Miles was first cross-deputized as a SAUSA    in 2007. Since that time, he has worked tirelessly to prosecute dangerous firearm offenders, armed drug traffickers, and violent gang members. Miles, who currently serves as Chief Criminal Deputy in his office, has mentored five of his colleagues in becoming productive federal gun prosecutors. Most recently, he played an instrumental role in establishing the target enforcement area in downtown Ogden, Utah, shepherding crucial components  of  local,  state, and federal law enforcement in a collaborative and strategic approach to reducing violent crime in this area. Miles’s work has  made  a  significant  impact on northern Utah’s violent crime problems and has resulted in extricating many of the most violent and dangerous criminals from this community.

 

The award for Outstanding Local Police/Sheriff Department Involvement is the Department’s award to the officers and departments that have laid the groundwork and spent time in the trenches fighting violent crime in the field, so others can fight it in the courtroom.

 

Wilmington Police Department

District of Delaware

The West Center City project is at the heart of Delaware’s PSN efforts. In 2017, Wilmington Police Department (WPD) began working with local and federal agencies to achieve a common goal: to remove violent actors from the target neighborhood and improve residents’ quality of life. A newly-established patrol unit conducted foot patrols and implemented community policing strategies. Officers worked with city agencies to shut down nuisance properties and provide other services to improve residents quality of life such as collecting garbage and cutting down tree branches. WPD officers worked with federal law enforcement to arrest drug dealers selling openly and to investigate shootings and murders. WPD has also established a “Real Time Crime Center” to support data-driven policing strategies. These efforts have made Wilmington safer for everyone. The WPD has reduced homicides by 33%, shootings by over 70%, burglaries by 31%, and rapes by 100% in the target neighborhood.

 

West Palm Beach Police Department

Southern District of Florida

The West Palm Beach Police Department’s commitment to the core principles of the reinvigorated PSN has had, and continues to have, a dramatic effect in the Southern District of Florida. West Palm Beach officers serve full time as task force officers with ATF, DEA, and FBI to combat violent crime. In 2018, the West Palm Beach Police Department created a “Real Time Crime Center” that uses intelligence from a number of sources to generate current and actionable law enforcement leads. In addition to enforcement activity, West Palm Beach PD has also made a commitment to community engagement, which successfully built bridges between law enforcement and the communities they serve. The West Palm Beach’s community engagement initiatives are extensive, and include not only national programs, but also local programs like the “R.I.P.” program that interacts weekly with juvenile offenders arrested for gun and violent crimes, and “Cops and Scholars,” which champions kids in vulnerable communities. West Palm Beach PD also serves as a partner to many outside organizations and programs. All of these efforts are contributing to the success of PSN in this community.

 

The award for Outstanding Community Involvement is the Department’s award to the regular citizens who saw a need for action and filled that need with their every effort. They too set an example and prove a point that Project Safe Neighborhoods is not something top-down, but rather bottom-up.

 

Better Family Life Initiative, James Clark

Vice President Community Outreach

Eastern District of Missouri

James Clark is the Vice President, Community Outreach, for Better Family Life, Inc. (BFL), a community development organization that promotes positive change through cultural, economic, and educational programs. When the reinvigorated PSN  program was launched in the Eastern District of Missouri, Clark readily joined the U.S. Attorney’s violent crime reduction working group. Among his numerous contributions to PSN, Clark greatly expanded the BFL’s Gun Violence De-escalation Program.

The goal of the de-escalation program is to prevent violent confrontations between feuding parties, and thereby save lives. The program involves identifying situations in which there  is  an  impending  threat  of violence involving two or more adversaries. Community members notify  BFL  of  feuds  and other impending altercations; BFL also learns about feuds from members of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and the St. Louis County Police Department. Upon learning of a feud, Clark dispatches trained staff members to investigate the  dispute. BFL identifies persons who have influence in  the lives of the combatants, including family members, coaches, clergy, or anyone who has influence over the adversary. With the help of this group, Clark and BFL provide conflict resolution assistance to mediate and de-escalate the dispute. BFL has successfully thwarted over 50 conflicts involving ongoing, escalating gun battles between combatants in the St. Louis area, with its results verified and studied by Washington University’s Brown School of Social Work.

Clark’s and BFL’s efforts to reduce gun violence through community involvement has been noteworthy and effective in other areas as well. For example, BFL organizes monthly summer “Clean Sweeps” where neighbors, members of law enforcement, and local construction companies clear and clean-up vacant and abandoned properties in distressed areas. Finally, Clark organized with the United States Attorney’s Office and Crime Stoppers over 40 public service announcements aimed at reducing violent crime which are aired on local radio.

 

Omaha 360° Violence Prevention Collaborative, Willie Barney

Executive Director

District of Nebraska

The Omaha 360° Violence Prevention Collaborative serves as a model of how PSN and federal prosecutors can partner with community-based efforts to enhance the law enforcement response to violent crime. The success of this program has dramatically decreased gun violence in Omaha and demonstrates that partnerships with non-criminal justice can greatly assist enforcement efforts through comprehensive prevention and community support.

Omaha 360°, a group of more than 400 organizations and thousands of participants, grew out of the Empowerment Network founded in 2006 by Willie Barney. He began by engaging members of his church and community and facilitating small group meetings with concerned citizens to address gun violence and improve the quality of life in the community. Barney also met with the Omaha Police Department (OPD) and worked to build a stronger relationship between OPD and the community. Today these stakeholders meet on a weekly basis and work together to address the root causes of gun violence and develop positive opportunities as alternatives to violence. Police- community relations  have  significantly  improved  as a result of this collaboration and OPD’s strong community engagement programs. These efforts have been key to violence reduction and community- building resulting in increased calls for service, witness cooperation, and clearance rates.

Omaha 360° has fully embraced its partnership with the United States Attorney’s Office. This partnership allows the United States Attorney’s Office to focus on its primary role—enforcing the law and, by doing so, improving public safety—while supporting other individuals and organizations to address the factors that contribute to violent crime. The combination of these efforts has made a significant impact in Omaha and is an integral component of the PSN effort.

 

The award for Innovative Prevention/Reentry Strategy is the Department’s award to those who made an impact to reduce offenses, preventing crime by mitigating risk, and preventing recidivism on the part of those reintegrating into society.

 

Offender Alumni Association

Northern District of Georgia

The Offender Alumni Association (OAA) organizes support groups for high-risk adult felons being released from custody to provide peer-to-peer support, help them solve dilemmas, and connect them with resources.  The organization is made up  of former offenders who are uniquely motivated and committed to helping those about to be released from prison. OAA’s model recognizes that continuous and consistent support is crucial to help prevent recidivism, accordingly, OAA meets with offenders while they are still incarcerated, and maintains relationships with them and their families to connect them with networks of support in their communities upon release. OAA has supported more than 650 offenders returning to the community.  In  2018, OAA expanded in support of the Northern District  of Georgia’s PSN strategy and now partners with the USAO, state and federal agencies, and other providers to support high-risk adult offenders being released from custody into PSN target enforcement areas.

 

The Justice Education Center, Inc.

District of Connecticut

The USAO for the District of Connecticut and The Justice Education Center developed the Career Pathways Technology Collaborative, a program designed to provide skilled vocational, credentialed training to at-risk youth, 16-24 years of age. Career Pathways enables young people to acquire credits toward their high school diploma or GED, obtain entry or competitive level employment, or seek further technology certifications through union or community college programs. This Collaborative is deeply community-based, as the Justice Education Center has developed partnerships with  local  Boards of Education, community colleges, workforce development boards, and unions. Of the 33 youths enrolled in the program since 2015, over 70% received credit towards graduation. The success of the partnership between the District of Connecticut and The Justice Education Center has fostered the development of new investments in education, risk reduction and career readiness – with PSN funds serving as critical leverage for additional state, municipal and foundation support.

Press Release Number: 
18-1608
Updated December 6, 2018