The Violent Repeat Offender (VRO) Program was created in 2012 from the recognition that a new approach was needed to stem the persistent violent crime that was destabilizing entire communities and destroying families in some of Atlanta’s struggling neighborhoods. Today, the VRO is the cornerstone of the enforcement component of the United States Attorney’s strategy to combat persistent violent crimes. It brings together federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in a collaborative effort to identified the most violent crime “hot spots” in metro Atlanta and the individuals responsible for committing most of the violent crime in these hot spots. Agencies involved in the VRO Program include the Atlanta Police Department, DeKalb Police Department, Gwinnett County Police Department, Georgia Department of Corrections, Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, the FBI, ATF, the United States Marshal’s Service Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force, the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. VRO’s goal is to identify and prosecute the most dangerous individuals, who are already prohibited from possessing a firearm but who persist in committing violent offenses while armed.
The VRO Program is an evidence-based model for fighting persistent violent crime that understands that lasting crime suppression will never be achieved by broad-based “enforcement sweeps,” which often only dislodge minor offenders from their families and risk creating community resentment from what may be seen as strong-arm tactics. Instead, VRO members devise objective measures that shift the focus from prosecuting the “troublesome” to prosecuting the truly dangerous. To do this, VRO uses empirical data, such as a subject’s criminal history, age, and frequency of firearm use, combined with ground-level intelligence to confirm that the subject is currently committing crimes to a community’s most dangerous individuals.
One such hot spot was Atlanta’s Pittsburgh community, founded in 1883 as an African American, working-class suburb and located just south and west of downtown Atlanta. In 2012, Pittsburgh was one of the most violent neighborhoods in Atlanta. A 3-month initiative led by the VRO Program, coupled with a USMS-led effort to arrest individuals with outstanding violent crime probation warrants and remedial services efforts, substantially improved life for Pittsburgh residents by using a surgical approach to address crime. Since 2012, serious violent crime in Pittsburgh decreased over 30%, and a violent street gang, the Pittsburgh Jack Boys was dismantled. Before making arrests, VRO members worked closely with local churches, elected officials, and the Pittsburgh Community Improvement Association to understand and respect the community’s needs.
The VRO’s productivity has been extraordinary. On average, the VRO Program brings a federal prosecution against a violent, repeat offender every 5 weeks, and an almost equal number are prosecuted by the state. On average, those prosecuted federally have 17 separate prior arrests, many for extremely violent crimes. For example, one VRO subject prosecuted federally was a Bloods gang member who had been arrested 12 times in the previous 10 years, including 4 separate arrests (two convictions) for aggravated assault and 6 arrests on firearms charges. Another subject had 4 prior aggravated assault convictions, including one where he shot a firearm during the assault, and at least one additional aggravated assault arrest. By removing these dangerous individuals, families are safer and communities can heal.
Significantly, in a time of dwindling resources, the VRO Program has been incredibly cost effective. Outside of the modest cost for analyzing crime data across the metro Atlanta area, there were no other monetary expenditures. Each agency freely dedicates resources and time, recognizing that only a combined effort will succeed against persistent violent crime, and that sacrifices must be shared. The VRO Program is a model smart-on-crime approach to public safety emphasizing cooperation and collaboration among federal, state, and local law enforcement.