U.S. Attorney Announces Project Safe Neighborhoods-Funded Initiative To Combat Gun Violence
Local Prosecutors in Four Counties to be Deputized as Special Asst. U.S. Attorneys to Identify State Firearms Cases that can be Adopted for Federal Prosecution
PITTSBURGH – U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton today announced a new initiative whereby several county prosecutors will be designated as Special Assistant United States Attorneys (SAUSAs) for the purpose of evaluating local criminal cases involving the use of firearms and referring appropriate cases for federal prosecution. The salaries of the assistant district attorneys from the four counties - Erie, Washington, Lawrence and Cambria - will be subsidized by Project Safe Neighborhoods grant funds, awarded to Western Pennsylvania in previous years but not yet expended.
“In 2013 and 2014, much of our PSN enforcement efforts focused on illegal activity along our interstates and major thoroughfares, key routes used by dealers to move drugs and guns,” stated U.S. Attorney Hickton. “Cross-designating local prosecutors is an extension of those efforts and will prove an effective means for determining whether or not federal prosecution of an armed defendant would further the aim of making our communities safer. This initiative also adds another dimension of cooperation between our office and the county prosecutors’ offices.”
“ATF Special Agents will team up with our designated prosecutors to initiate federal investigations that identify and target gun carrying criminals and habitual violators, who are a menace to our communities,” said ATF Special Agent in Charge Sam Rabadi. “ATF’s core mission is fighting violent crime and we look forward to working closely with these dedicated prosecutors to reduce gun violence and increase public safety in our neighborhoods throughout western Pennsylvania.”
According to U.S. Attorney Hickton, the Assistant County District Attorneys will serve a six-month term as a SAUSA to handle intake and federal prosecution of PSN cases originating in their respective counties. The SAUSAs would have access to their District Attorney’s database of criminal filings, review cases where serious firearms-related charges have been involved, and quickly retrieve and review investigative reports relating to these cases. The SAUSAs will pay particular attention to chronic offenders, designated as ‘Armed Career Criminals’ in the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, large-scale drug dealers and gang members. Working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office Violent Crime Chief, the SAUSAs will select the more serious and/or complex cases wherein there is a federal jurisdiction and the likelihood of greater federal sentence. Once a case has been selected for federal prosecution, the arrangements would be made to transfer the defendant to federal custody. Also, the SAUSAs will work with local police departments to provide education on federal firearms laws.
The $44,000 in funding for this project is provided by Project Safe Neighborhoods, a collaborative effort by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and communities to prevent, deter and prosecute gun crime. The United States Department of Justice has committed millions of dollars to this effort. This funding is being used nationwide to hire new federal, state and local prosecutors, support investigators, provide training, distribute gun safety lock kits, deter juvenile gun crime, and develop and promote community outreach efforts.
In Western Pennsylvania, the Project Safe Neighborhoods Task Force has developed a strategic plan to strengthen partnerships between all levels of law enforcement agencies and community organizations, to increase awareness of the problem and to develop solutions for achieving the goal of creating safer communities by reducing gun crime.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office PSN strategy continues to implement Attorney General Eric Holder’s three-legged stool approach to protecting the public welfare. This approach involves Enforcement, Prevention/Community Engagement and Prisoner Reentry. Beginning in 2011, the U.S. Attorney through PSN began to forge a community impact prosecution strategy intended to have a demonstrable and meaningful impact on community crime and improve public safety. This strategy employs federal, state and local cooperation among law enforcement to target illegal firearms, gang activity and drug trafficking, including the unlawful sale of prescription drugs.