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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of New York

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, September 9, 2021

U.S. Attorney Kennedy Announces Results Of VIPER Initiative

Homicides in Buffalo down over 50% following implementation of VIPER

CONTACT: Barbara Burns
PHONE: (716) 843-5817
FAX #: (716) 551-3051

BUFFALO, N.Y. - U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr. announced today the results of the first 60-days of the federal Violence Prevention and Elimination Response (VIPER) Initiative, which sought to address the dramatic increase in gun violence in the City of Buffalo during the first half of 2021.

The initial 60-day period of VIPER covered the time period between July 7 and September 7, 2021. Following the implementation of VIPER, the homicide rate in the City of Buffalo decreased by over 50%. In addition, in the first four months of 2021, the number of shooting victims in Buffalo was up 100% compared to the five-year average for those same months. Following the implementation of VIPER in 2021, shooting victims in Buffalo are down 6% compared to the five-year average for those same months.

VIPER achieved its ultimate objective of saving lives by focusing on four primary objectives:

1. Enhanced Targeted Enforcement - Using every tool that we have to get all levels of law enforcement to work together to get violent gun offenders off of our streets and locked-up in jail
where they belong.  Fishing with a spear, not a net.

2. Enhanced Federal Prosecutions - Prioritizing the arrest and federal prosecution of:
• Prohibited persons who possess firearms and ammunition;
• Individuals who unlawfully buy, sell, or traffic (or attempt illegally to buy, sell or traffic) guns; and
• Violent criminals and drug dealers who illegally possess firearms in furtherance of their unlawful activities.

3. Enhanced Cooperation and Use of Intelligence-led Policing - All Buffalo gun arrests were subject to daily, real-time review by both state and federal prosecutors.
• Layered over this aggressive reactive process, however, was a proactive collaboration between federal, state, and local law enforcement to decide who poses the greatest risk to public safety in our community.
• In addition, all levels of law enforcement in and around Buffalo, led by the USMS Fugitive Task Force, was extremely proactive in arresting fugitives from justice who had active arrest warrants for gun crimes or crimes of violence.

4. Enhanced Community Engagement - As noted at outset in announcing the formation of VIPER, the increase in violence experienced over the last 18 months or so coincided with the deterioration of police and community relations.  All partners have worked hard over these last 60 days through enhanced community policing and engagement efforts, to help improve the relationship between the police and the community. 

During VIPER, 144 firearms arrests were made, 44 are pending federal prosecution, while 96 are pending state prosecution. The VIPER Task Force also seized 122 firearms, taking them out of the hands of those who would commit acts of violence.

“Just a few days before VIPER began, on July 5th, Shaquelle Walker Jr., a three-year-old boy was shot in Buffalo and later died of his wounds,” noted U.S. Attorney Kennedy. “His nickname was Quell, and one meaning of that word is ‘to put an end to.’  In honor of that three-year-old, every level of federal, state, and local law enforcement in this District joined forces, through VIPER, in furtherance of our shared objective of beginning to quell the violence in Buffalo. Those efforts have worked and produced some pretty impressive results. But we still have more work to do, and for that reason, I am announcing today that the VIPER initiative here in Buffalo will be extended and continued through the end of October. That means that those of us in law enforcement will continue our proactive efforts to get violent criminals off of our streets. Importantly, and as part of our effort, I am also calling on all members of our community not only to continue—but to expand—their support and participation in our effort.  Together we have made great progress over these last 60 days, as violent criminals are starting to realize that they will be held accountable for their actions, and that their adversary is not just law enforcement police but every law-abiding man, woman, and child in our community.”

“The VIPER Task Force was a collaborative response to the surge in gun violence affecting communities in Western New York. I anticipated there would be additional increase in shootings as more incidents typically occur during the summer months. I believe this multi-agency initiative, along with our efforts to re-engage and improve relations with our community, has made a positive impact as the number of shootings did decrease in the City of Buffalo during this time period. The results of this task force show our commitment to preventing further violence by removing illegal guns and narcotics from our streets. I want to thank the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our local, state and federal law enforcement partners for their hard work over the past two months and their continued dedication to keeping our neighborhoods safe,” said Erie County District Attorney John Flynn.

“Over the past year, firearms-involved violent crimes in Buffalo have surged dramatically and the effects have been diverse, dangerous, and far-reaching," said Stephen Belongia, special-agent-in-charge of the FBI Buffalo Field Office. "Families, friends, and neighbors have witnessed the work of callous criminals who pull triggers for a living and are not bothered by the fragments left behind--the splintered remnants of the lives that could have been. This unrelenting crime problem never slows down and demands that we tackle it together. From the onset of the VIPER initiative, it has been our collective responsibility and goal to save lives. And over the last eight weeks we have saved lives. The statistics reflect our successes. Our strategy is defined by a valued team approach and includes a sustained, systematic, and coordinated push across all law enforcement agencies. Today, we stay committed. We will continue this battle against violence. We stand with the community and promise to maintain our efforts to make Buffalo a safer place where Buffalonians and can live, work, and enjoy lives not tethered by crime.”

“Gun violence is an epidemic that is taking a devastating physical and emotional toll on the streets of our communities across the country,” stated John B. DeVito, ATF Special Agent-in-Charge, New York Field Division. “But as this VIPER effort demonstrates, when all levels of law enforcement come together and work collaboratively, sharing information and resources, guns and the criminals terrible committing acts of violence with them, can be removed from our neighborhoods, greatly improving the quality of life for citizens living in those neighborhoods.”

“As stated at the creation of this initiative, HSI and our law enforcement partners are committed to curbing gun violence in Western New York,” Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Acting Special Agent-in-Charge Matthew Scarpino said. “Albeit the efforts taken thus far are noteworthy, we remain cognizant of the work that still needs to be done.” 

“Law enforcement’s job is to increase public safety, health, and save lives,” said DEA Special Agent-in-Charge Ray Donovan. “The VIPER Task Force has proven effective in taking guns off the streets which safeguards our communities.  I commend the members of the Task Force and the United States Attorney’s Office, Western District of New York for their diligent efforts.”

“These results demonstrate how law enforcement agencies work to solve community problems,” stated Sheriff Timothy B. Howard. “The agencies were focused on getting criminals and illegally possessed weapons off the streets. Our collected efforts show in the numbers, and the people of our community should feel good about the VIPER Task Force’s work. This effort provided some momentum and, together, we can continue to removed criminals and illegally possessed weapons.”

Members of the Federal Violence Prevention and Elimination Response Task Force include the United States Attorney’s Office, under the direction U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr.; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, under the direction of Special Agent-in-Charge John B. Devito, New York Field Division; the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Buffalo Division, under the direction of Special Agent-in-Charge Stephen Belongia; the United States Marshals Service for the Western District of New York, under the direction of Marshal Charles Salina; Homeland Security Investigations, under the direction of Special Agent-in-Charge Kevin Kelly; and the Drug Enforcement Administration, under the direction of Special Agent-in-Charge Ray Donovan, New York Field Division.

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Topic(s): 
Project Safe Neighborhoods
Violent Crime
Updated September 9, 2021