U.S. Attorney Lydon Announces Progress in Making Our Communities Safer Through Project Safe Neighborhoods
COLUMBIA, SC ------ United States Attorney Sherri A. Lydon stated today that 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.
South Carolina’s implementation of PSN is called Project CeaseFire. PSN has been historically successful in bringing together all levels of law enforcement to reduce violent crime and make our neighborhoods safer for everyone. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made turning the tide of rising violent crime in America a top priority.
“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.”
Sherri Lydon, United States Attorney for the District of South Carolina, has quickly redoubled efforts and resources in combatting violent crime and securing our communities, recently adding federal prosecutors in the Columbia, Greenville, and Florence offices. “We are ‘all in’ with our state and local partners and committed to turning the tide of violence in South Carolina.”
As we celebrate the one-year anniversary of the revitalized PSN program, here are some of the highlights of our PSN/Project CeaseFire actions over the past year in South Carolina:
Across the state, federal partners have worked hand in hand with local law enforcement agencies to make our communities safer by getting the most violent armed recidivists off our streets and out of our communities. One of the programs implemented under PSN/Project CeaseFire in South Carolina is “Operation Real Time,” which is designed to fast-track the most violent armed offenders to federal court, where many times they face stiffer penalties for firearm offenses and swift justice.
During 2017 – 2018, the USAO has prosecuted 533 armed offenders in 178 federal criminal complaints and 455 federal indictments. Below are some examples of armed felons successfully prosecuted under PSN/Project CeaseFire recently. Additional PSN/Project CeaseFire press releases may be found at https://www.justice.gov/usao-sc/pr.
“National Day of Concern”: On Wednesday, October 17, 2018, the United States Attorney’s Office, along with our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners, will visit schools across South Carolina to meet with students as a part of our 17th annual Student Pledge Against Gun Violence. With a focus on keeping their schools and communities safe, students in middle school and high school are signing a voluntary pledge promising that they will never take a gun to school, will never resolve a dispute with a gun, and will use their influence to prevent friends from using guns to resolve disputes. Elementary school children are making a simpler commitment, pledging that if they see a gun they will not touch it, they will tell a teacher or a trusted adult, and they will assume that any gun they see might be loaded.
The Student Pledge Against Gun Violence is a national program that recognizes the role young people, through their own decisions, can play in reducing gun violence. The program provides a means for beginning the conversation with young people about gun violence and encourages important conversation among young people about gun safety and respectful ways to resolve disputes. Students from around the country will join together in pledging to do their part.
'Focused Deterrence Models: Aiken Safe Communities and beyond”: In late 2012, the USAO-DSC partnered with the Aiken Department of Public Safety as well as numerous other federal, state, and local enforcement partners and community partners in their efforts to advance “Aiken Safe Communities.” This program entails inviting repeat offenders, many of whom are on state probation, to a public forum and allowing community partners, as well as law enforcement, to urge the offenders to not re-offend and to seize opportunities offered by the community. Officially launched in early 2013, the Aiken Safe Communities Initiative is a unified, proactive community approach to engage, educate, and encourage recurring offenders to change their behavior and make healthy life choices. The initiative also bands together local, state, and federal law enforcement to expedite the investigation and prosecution of individuals who reoffend in lieu of accepting opportunities and assistance offered by the community during public notification meetings held at Aiken City Hall several times a year.
From 2012-2013, the City of Aiken experienced an 86% reduction in murders. In 2014, the South Carolina Community Development Association presented the city of Aiken with its 2014 Award of Excellence, recognizing community development efforts that have significantly improved the quality of life in the community. “Safe Communities” continues to thrive with active involvement by the community, to include faith-based, non-profit, and business partners, as well as law enforcement at all levels. For those participants who did not avail themselves of the opportunities offered at the “call in” and reoffended thereafter, indictments followed. However, of the over 125 individuals who have participated in the program, the resulting recidivism rate is less than 18% compared to a national average of over 75%.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office has also helped facilitate and initiate additional iterations in Conway (C-STAND), Columbia (Ceasefire Columbia), Hartsville (Hartsville Safe Communities), Greenville (Greenville Safe Communities), and Orangeburg (Orangeburg) Safe Communities.
“Operation ‘Home Front’”: Home Front is a focused deterrence-based initiative to combat domestic violence led by 7th Circuit Solicitor Barry Barnette. The initiative launched in December of 2016 and has the full support and partnership of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Solicitor Barnette has detailed a career prosecutor from his office, Jennifer Wells, to serve as a Special Assistant United States Attorney handling these cases for the 7th Circuit in United States Federal Court. Since early 2017, thirty-seven domestic violence defendants have been indicted and prosecuted as a part of the United States Attorney’s Office’s partnership with the 7th Circuit Solicitor’s Office to reduce domestic violence homicides and lower recidivism rates. Twenty-three of these defendants pled guilty to firearm related offenses. Two were found guilty at trial. To date, eleven defendants have been sentenced between 16 – 108 months in the Bureau of Prisons. The average sentence is 52 months.
Modelled after a program started in High Point, North Carolina, members of the Home Front task force began earlier this fall, meeting with representatives from every police department in Spartanburg county as well as the Sheriff’s Office. The Spartanburg County State Probation office and victim’s advocate stalwart, SAFE Homes, also serve as critical partners in this effort. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, domestic violence is a community crime problem that costs the United States over $5.8 billion every year. It is a major drain on law enforcement resources as domestic violence generates a high volume of calls and repeated calls to the same location. Domestic violence homicides make up 40–50 percent of all murders of women in the United States. Women who have experienced a history of domestic violence report more health problems than other women and they have a greater risk for substance abuse, unemployment, alcoholism, and suicide attempts.
Research shows that the repeat domestic violence offender tends to have a significant criminal history that includes a wide range of both domestic violence and non-domestic violence offenses. Most of these offenders are readily identified as they are known to the criminal justice system. The Home Front initiative exposes the repeat domestic violence offender to sanctions because of his pattern of criminal behavior. According to the 2015 Violence Policy Center “When Men Murder Women” report, South Carolina led the nation in rates of women murdered by men. Sixty-six percent (66%) of the victims were killed with a firearm and ninety-six percent (96%) of women murdered were killed by someone they knew. In Spartanburg County during the 2015 calendar year, SAFE Homes serviced 6726 victims of domestic violence. In the same time frame, the Spartanburg Police Department charged 907 domestic violence cases and the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office charged 1068 domestic violence cases. There were fourteen (14) domestic related deaths in Spartanburg County in 2015.
Solicitor Barnette has had enough. “Domestic violence is violence, period. It continues to plague our community--so costly and harmful to families and children, persisting year after year. It is time for these offenders to get our best shot—our best efforts. That is Home Front.”
United States Attorney Sherri Lydon agrees. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office stands with Solicitor Barnette as well as local, state, and federal law enforcement in this innovative approach to stop the abuse and secure our victims and families from this continued cycle of horrific violence.”
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 one and a half 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.
These enforcement actions and partnerships are part of PSN, a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and make our neighborhoods safer for everyone. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reinvigorated PSN in 2017 as part of the Department’s renewed focus on targeting violent criminals, directing all U.S. Attorney’s Offices to work in partnership with federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement and the local community to develop effective, locally based strategies to reduce violent crime. Learn more about Project Safe Neighborhoods.