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Press Release

U.S. Attorney Announces Safer Communities Through Project Safe Neighborhoods Program

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Middle District of Florida

Tampa, FL – One year ago, the Department of Justice announced the revitalization and enhancement of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), which Attorney General Sessions has made the centerpiece of the Department’s violent crime reduction strategy. PSN is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime. Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them. As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and, partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime. Throughout the past year, the Middle District of Florida (MDFL) has partnered with all levels of law enforcement, local organizations, and members of the community to reduce violent crime and make our neighborhoods safer for everyone.

In support of the Department’s PSN programs throughout the country, the Attorney General today also announced awards of almost $28 million in grant funding to combat violent crime through PSN and another $3 million for training and technical assistance to develop and implement violent crime reduction strategies and enhance services and resources for victims of violent crime. As part of those awards, the MDFL will receive $1,129,811 to continue implementing PSN strategies within its district.

“Project Safe Neighborhoods is a proven program with demonstrated results,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said. “We know that the most effective strategy to reduce violent crime is based on sound policing policies that have proven effective over many years, which includes being targeted and responsive to community needs. I have empowered our United States Attorneys to focus enforcement efforts against the most violent criminals in their districts, and directed that they work together with federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement and community partners to develop tailored solutions to the unique violent crime problems they face. Each United States Attorney has prioritized the PSN program, and I am confident that it will continue to reduce crime, save lives, and restore safety to our communities.”  

“Public safety is everybody’s business,” said U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to working with our law enforcement partners at every level and with our citizens to rid our streets of violent crime. We will not rest until our communities are safer places to live, work, and play.”

Since 2001, the MDFL has been a leader in implementing the PSN program. As we celebrate the one-year anniversary of the revitalized program, here are some of the highlights of our PSN actions over the past year:

Enforcement Actions

The mission of the MDFL’s PSN program is to prosecute dangerous offenders, dismantle drug trafficking organizations, build proactive conspiracy cases against violent gang members, and support the U.S. Attorney’s crime prevention strategy. U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez coordinates the district’s PSN efforts with various federal, state, and local law enforcement officials to ensure that resources are strategically directed against violent offenders. MDFL PSN efforts are districtwide, with a special focus placed in Tampa through the Tampa Bay PSN Task Force; in Jacksonville, through the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Gun Unit; and in Fort Myers, through the Violent Crime Working Group. Interagency coordination, cooperation, and training has resulted in significant outcomes. A few highlights include:

  • United States v. Isaac Thomas (Tampa Bay) – defendant was a previously convicted felon who got into a fight at a high school basketball game and was removed; he then fired a gun at law enforcement. Thomas was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for possessing a firearm as a felon and in a school zone. (Link to press release)
  • United States v. Alejo Guerrero (Fort Myers) – defendant was prosecuted for multiple drug and gun offenses and was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison. (Link to press release)
  • United States v. Christopher Bentley (Jacksonville) – defendant was a pimp, convicted felon, and drug dealer. He was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. (Link to press release)
  • United States v. Roderick Lester (Jacksonville) – defendant was a convicted felon sentenced to over 8 years in federal prison for armed robbery of a local tire store. (Link to press release)

Community Partnerships

The MDFL employs a three-pronged approach as part of its violent crime reduction strategy. In addition to enforcement and prosecution, key partnerships with schools, faith institutions, and other community organizations are continuous to support local prevention, intervention, and reentry programs. Through various yearlong community events, thousands of citizens have been engaged to create safer communities. Some key events and partnerships include:

Improvements to Community Safety

  • The FBI’s official crime data for 2017 reflects that, after two consecutive, historic increases in violent crime, in the first year of the Trump Administration, the nationwide violent crime rate began to decline. The nationwide violent crime rate decreased by approximately one percent in 2017, while the nationwide homicide rate decreased by nearly 1½ percent.
  • The preliminary information we have for 2018 gives us reason for optimism that our efforts are continuing to pay off. Public data from 60 major cities show that violent crime was down by nearly five percent in those cities in the first six months of 2018 compared to the same period a year ago.

MDFL Highlights

  • In FY2018, the Tampa Bay PSN Task Force indicted 168 federal cases. 
  • In partnership with federal, state, and local agencies, violent crime in the City of Tampa was reduced by 27% (2015 benchmark data).
  • In 2017, 11 members of the violent “Manche Boys Mafia” gang were indicted on white-collar offenses (including conspiracy, credit card fraud, aggravated identify theft, and tax crimes). Their sentences ranged between 4 and 8 ½ years’ imprisonment.
Updated October 3, 2018

Project Safe Neighborhoods