U.S. Attorney Announces Progress in Making our Communities Safer Through Project Safe Neighborhoods
FBI Crime in the United States Report Shows 3.9 Drop in Violent Crime in 2018
NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – October 31, 2019
SAN DIEGO – Two years ago, the Department of Justice announced the revitalization and enhancement of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), the centerpiece of the department’s violent crime reduction strategy. PSN is an evidence-based program proven 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 two years, the Department of Justice 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. According to FBI’s 2018 Crime in the United States Report released this month, the violent crime rate decreased for the second consecutive year, down 3.9 percent from the 2017 numbers.
“The revitalized Project Safe Neighborhoods program is a major success,” said Attorney General William P. Barr. “It packs a powerful punch by combining advanced data with local leadership, further reducing violence in communities across the country and improving overall public safety. U.S. Attorneys continue to focus their enforcement efforts against the most violent criminals and work in partnership with federal, state, local, and tribal police. The Justice Department’s relationships across the board have never been stronger.”
“Through Project Safe Neighborhoods, we are focused on the most dangerous criminals in our community – the ones with guns,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer. “We’re making a real difference, but there is always more progress to be made. Our gun-related prosecutions are up nearly 54 percent this year, which means neighborhoods are safer as a result.”
As we celebrate the two-year anniversary of the revitalized PSN program, here are some of the highlights of our PSN actions over the past year in the Southern District of California (SDCA):
The Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) program operates in the SDCA primarily as a collaboration between the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office. Using intelligence from both local and federal law enforcement, these two prosecutorial offices (the largest two in the region) work to determine which jurisdiction, state or federal, will be able to provide the most effective prosecution forum and ultimately the greatest impact for the community. In the past year, the PSN partnership has frequently caused the deployment of federal enforcement resources against violent offenders who might face a smaller sanction in state court. Special agents from the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) or the FBI’s Violent Crime Task Force (VCTF) often lead these investigations.
- Between fiscal year 2018 and fiscal year 2019, cases designated and prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office under PSN rose almost 49 percent, from approximately 145 cases in 2018 to 214 cases in fiscal year 2019. Individual federal firearms prosecutions – a subset of the PSN program – rose almost 54 percent; from approximately 43 cases in 2018 to 66 cases in fiscal year 2019. Efforts to increase prosecutions for fiscal year 2020 are already underway. Among other initiatives, law enforcement is focusing on the prosecution of unlawful possession of firearms by people with domestic violence convictions and domestic violence restraining orders.
- The breadth of cases designated under PSN was also expanded between 2018 and 2019. Four recent examples highlight the diversity of the cases being brought for federal prosecution, all aimed at making SDCA safer:
- On October 17, 2019, Justin Alexander Roberts pleaded guilty in federal court for his role in a series of armed robberies throughout San Diego County. See U.S. v. Roberts, 19-CR-740-AJB. In his plea agreement, Roberts admits that he used a firearm to rob a series of local businesses (known to local media as the “Burgundy Bandit” robbery series). Under the terms of the agreement, Roberts faces a minimum of 21 years in prison. Roberts is scheduled to be sentenced on January 6, 2020.
- On August 5, 2019, Jose Hernandez, aka “Chapo,” a member of the Otay River Bottom Locos gang, was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison for his aggravated role in a drug distribution conspiracy as well as his participation in an attempted armed robbery ordered by the Mexican Mafia. See U.S. v. Hernandez, et al, 18-CR-3424-LAB; 18-CR-4217-LAB. More information about the Hernandez case can be found here.
- On June 17, 2019, Obediah Breer, an Escondido resident and member of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for distributing methamphetamine and possessing a firearm. See U.S. v. Roberts, 18-CR-4624-LAB. After Breer was alleged to have brandished a firearm during a traffic encounter, state and federal prosecutors agreed that his case would be prosecuted federally. More information about the Breer case can be found here.
- Brandon Lockwood and Alex Woods were both sentenced to federal prison after pleading guilty to selling a stolen vehicle, selling methamphetamine, and trafficking firearms in Vista, California. See U.S. v. Lockwood, et. al., 18-CR-5575-AJB. The Lockwood case was one of three cases prosecuted federally as part of a 2018 undercover collaboration between ATF, the San Diego County Regional Auto Theft Task Force (RATT), and the San Diego County District Attorney. See also 19-CR-1097-JM; 19-CR-1210-GPC.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) in the Southern District of California furthers PSN’s prevention mission by convening stakeholders, forging diverse partnerships, providing mentors, and using the following novel approaches to reduce violent crime:
- Because youth are often groomed and recruited by gangs before middle school, SDCA partnered with community groups as well as county health, local law enforcement and school officials to launch “Success Agents,” an innovative program that offers at-risk 4th graders at Porter Elementary mentors and wrap-around support from 4th through 8th grade. A USAO-led team meets weekly with Success Agents kids, providing interactive workshops to improve decision-making, foster relationships and academic achievement, and expand horizons.
- The SDCA USAO coordinates an eight-week Project Lead program in targeted elementary schools in neighborhoods particularly affected by gangs and violent crime. The team’s efforts significantly expanded youth education on decision-making and refusal skills, preparing more than 2,000 vulnerable fifth graders to make smart decisions when asked to join gangs, use drugs or alcohol, tag a building, or skip school. The program also builds strong relationships between students and state and federal law enforcement agents from many agencies, including the U.S. Attorney’s Office, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Secret Service, ATF, DEA, Homeland Security Investigations, IRS, City Attorney’s Office and U.S. Probation.
- The USAO participates in the city’s creative Community Assistance Support Team (CAST), a stakeholder group designed to curb gang violence by partnering police with former gang and community members. Members work together immediately after shootings to prevent retaliation and escalation. Through CAST, USAO personnel meet regularly with police officers, Deputy Sheriffs, community activists, local pastors and community leaders to review violent incidents, discuss resources and needs, share information, and solve problems.
Improvements to Community Safety
- For the second consecutive year, the estimated number of violent crimes in the nation decreased when compared with the previous year’s statistics, according to FBI figures released earlier this month. In 2018, the number of violent crimes was down 3.3 percent from the 2017 number.
- The 2018 statistics also show the estimated rate of violent crime was 368.9 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants. The violent crime rate fell 3.9 percent when compared with the 2017 rate.
- In February 2018, it was widely reported that San Diego had achieved its lowest crime rate in the past 49 years. On September 26, 2018, local news outlets reported that San Diego had the lowest violent crime rate of America’s biggest cities last year. In May 2019, SANDAG reported that the 2018 violent crime rate (3.41) for the San Diego region remained unchanged from 2017 and was the fourth lowest in the past 39 years. The same report also detailed that the number of robberies and aggravated assaults with a firearm were both down from 2017 to 2018.
These enforcement actions and partnerships are part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (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. The Department of Justice 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. To learn more about Project Safe Neighborhoods, go to www.justice.gov/psn.
In the Southern District of California, the PSN program is led by the Violent Crime and Human Trafficking (VCHT) Section. Formed in 2019, by U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer, the VCHT is tasked with leading collaborations between federal and local law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of cases involving violent crimes, firearms and gang cases; sex trafficking and child exploitation; civil rights, and labor trafficking. The VCHT Section also oversees the Southern District of California Coordinators for Human Trafficking and Project Safe Childhood. The VCHT Section provides federal prosecutors to the downtown San Diego Violent Crimes Task Force-Gang Group, the North County Gang Task Force, and the East County Gang Task Force.