As the chief federal law enforcement officer in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, I am proud to serve and protect the approximately five million citizens of this District. At the U.S. Attorney’s Office, our primary strategy for reducing violent crime is to aggressively investigate and prosecute the worst violent criminals on the street – those who commit crimes for a living.
Another critical part of our strategy is community outreach to deter violent crime before it happens. In addition to the other outreach we do, we launched this public awareness campaign to educate the public about what my Office can do when violent crimes occur.
I want everyone to know that committing a federal violent crime will carry with it serious federal prison time. There’s a reason that would-be criminals fear federal prosecution. We have powerful tools at our disposal that we deploy every day. The federal prosecutors in my Office stand ready with our federal partners to aggressively prosecute criminals who terrorize our community with the illegal use of guns.
So, to would-be criminals, our message is simple: Gun Crime = Fed Time, with no parole - ever. Put the guns down and make the right choice.
And to law-abiding members of our community, know this: no matter where you live in our District, you deserve a safe neighborhood. We stand ready to protect you and your community.
William M. McSwain
United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania
What prompted us to launch this campaign?
The simple answer is that there is a public safety crisis occurring in parts of the Eastern District, in Philadelphia in particular. In 2018, homicides and shootings in Philadelphia skyrocketed; they continued to rise in 2019; and they have continued on an upward path thus far in 2020. In response, over the past two and a half years, my Office has shifted resources into violent crime prosecutions and worked extremely hard to stem this violent tide. But it is clear that we need to do even more.
Additionally, we have learned much from our past experience in talking to defendants we once prosecuted. Many of the offenders we prosecuted did not realize that the crimes they committed were actually federal offenses until it was too late. Many of them have said that they wish they had known they could be facing serious federal time for their actions.
Our collective experience as prosecutors got us thinking: what can we do to raise awareness about the stiff federal penalties that come with committing violent crime? We launched this initiative to make people think twice before committing the type of violent crime that carries with it federal time. And we want to educate and inform the public that there are many crimes that are federal offenses that might not seem so at first blush.
For example, under a federal statute called the Hobbs Act, it is a federal crime to use force or threats of force to rob a commercial business – like a pharmacy, a convenience store, or even a corner market. It does not matter whether the robber steals thousands of dollars from the cash register or nothing more than a pack of cigarettes. And it does not matter whether the robber uses a gun or not. Because these stores operate in “interstate commerce,” that is enough to give our Office the ability to take these cases federally. And that is exactly what we will do to get justice for the victims in these cases – store owners and their patrons who live in fear in the neighborhood.
And though Hobbs Act robberies are federal crimes whether a gun is involved or not, the penalties are much higher when they are committed with a firearm. For example, if the same defendant waved a gun around when he or she robbed that convenience store, the best case scenario at sentencing is a five-year mandatory minimum sentence. And that mandatory minimum sentence is required by law to run consecutively – or to be “stacked” – with whatever prison sentence the judge imposes for the robbery itself.
It is also a serious federal crime for a convicted felon merely to possess a gun. Such a straightforward offense can result in many years of federal prison time.
These examples are just the tip of the iceberg of the types of crimes that carry with them serious federal time.
The campaign features audio, video, and printed public service announcements urging individuals to stop and think about the consequences of criminal behavior. The goal here is deterrence and accountability. Those two ingredients form the core of effective criminal prosecution.
Violent Crime in Philadelphia and the Eastern District of Pennsylvania More Broadly
Illegal firearms offenses have a real, visceral impact on the people of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania every day. The level of violent crime in Philadelphia, in particular, is intolerable. In 2019, Philadelphia recorded its highest number of homicides since 2007. Also, more people were shot in Philadelphia in 2019 than in any other year since 2010, according to police statistics. And robberies in 2019 – both with and without firearms – were recorded in higher numbers than in previous years.
Sadly, gun violence puts people in the most vulnerable communities at risk. Philadelphia’s 2019 gun violence statistics include:
- 355 homicides
- 2,181 robberies with a gun
- 2,615 aggravated assaults with a gun
- 1,435 non-fatal shooting victims
All of these numbers are higher than in 2018 – which was itself an extremely violent year in Philadelphia -- and the upward trend continues into 2020. As of July 5, 2020, there have been 1,498 shooting incidents, a 53.8% increase from the same date in 2019. There have been 1,551 aggravated assaults with a gun, a 21.6% increase from the same date in 2019. And as of July 5, 2020, there have been 218 homicides, a 29% increase from the same date in 2019.
This has to stop.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania is committed to stemming the flow of violent crime, not only in Philadelphia, but throughout all nine counties in our District. Our Office aggressively stepped up its prosecution of violent crime last year and will continue to do so. For example, in Fiscal Year 2019, our Violent Crime Unit charged the largest number of cases in all of the Criminal Division Units in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. It charged 208 violent crime cases, as compared to 136 the year before, which represents a 53% increase from the previous fiscal year.
And in Philadelphia’s most dangerous neighborhoods – police districts that are designated as “Project Safe Neighborhood” hot spots – federal prosecutions continue to rise. Project Safe Neighborhood (PSN) is a collaborative effort by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and communities to prevent and deter gang and gun violence. For more information about Project Safe Neighborhood, go here.
In Fiscal Year 2019, the U.S. Attorney’s Office charged 143 violent crime and illegal gun possession cases (against 195 defendants) in PSN districts as compared to 82 cases (against 92 defendants) charged in the previous year. That is a whopping 72% increase in the number of cases this Office pursued and a 112% increase in the number of defendants prosecuted.
As these numbers show, we take violent crime very seriously. As a member of our community, you can help us reduce the level of violent crime in our District and bring criminals to justice. If you see or hear something suspicious, please contact us or call your local police station. To report a violent crime in your neighborhood, you can call the Federal Bureau of Investigation hotline at 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324), and to report a firearms offense, you can call the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms hotline at 1-888-ATF-GUNS.
Join our campaign #FedCrimeGetsFedTime
Help spark a conversation in your community by sharing our messages. Share this page, our Facebook page, and the information on both with businesses, friends, family, and your community. Together, we can make a difference.
Watch our public service announcements and listen to our radio announcements on YouTube
Look for our anti-violence messages on billboards located throughout our District and bus shelters located throughout Center City Philadelphia.
Learn from the mistakes of the past:
Listen to interviews with previous offenders who committed Hobbs Act robberies and were prosecuted: