PSN works, and it shows
The first Executive Order issued by President Trump in February, 2017, was to reduce crime and restore public safety to communities across the Nation. And under the leadership of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the nation’s 94 U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the Department of Justice have responded and charged the largest number of violent crime and firearm defendants in its history in FY 2018. Since taking office last September, I have made prosecution of gun crimes in the federal system a top priority. Under our violence reduction strategy, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has dramatically increased the number of firearms prosecutions filed, and seeks maximum sentences on firearms offenses because guns are a common denominator in many violent crimes, including murder, robbery, drug trafficking and aggravated assault. During FY 2018, the Western District of Tennessee ranks number 1 among all 25 medium districts in the country and number 1 among all 9 districts in the 6th Circuit for number of firearms and violent crime cases and defendants filed. The office also ranks 6th among all districts in the nation in firearms prosecutions. The Department of Justice is open for business, and it shows.
Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) is a proven violent crime reduction strategy that works, and is now reinvigorated with additional resources and commitment from our partners at the ATF, Memphis Police Department, Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, and Shelby County District Attorney’s Office. Since October, 2017, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has increased the number of federal firearms cases filed by over 58 percent, and the number of defendants charged with firearms offenses has increased over 68 percent. These efforts provide targeted prosecution of the worst-of-the-worst offenders in order to enhance public safety in Memphis and West Tennessee by removing guns from the hands of dangerous people and removing violent offenders from our communities. We are imposing real consequences for criminal behavior, and it shows.
Our enhanced PSN Task Force also utilizes the full range of available data, methods, and advances in technology to identify the locations with significant violent crime issues (hot spots) and the offenders that are driving violent crime there (“trigger-pullers and traffickers”). On September 24, 2018, the DOJ awarded over $1.1 million in grant funding to Memphis to hire personnel to utilize the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN), to purchase technology required to operate a Crime Gun Intelligence Center (CGIC) and ammunition for ballistic tests of recovered weapons, and to provide for enhanced Justice information sharing technology for the collection, storage, sharing and analysis of criminal justice data. We are getting smarter about firearms investigations, and it shows.
While we have dramatically increased our output - number of prosecutions, we know that focus is only meaningful if it results in better outcomes - reduction in violent crime rates. I am happy to report that, as expected and proven in the past, more firearms prosecutions actually works to lower violent crime rates.
In the first 3 quarters of 2018, Memphis and unincorporated parts of Shelby County reported 3,659 gun crimes, which represents a 17.3 percent decrease from the same period in 2017, when 4,422 such crimes were reported. The reduction in reported crimes with guns is consistent with the reduction in reported violent crimes. During the first nine months of this year, reported violent crimes in Memphis were down in the major categories of murders (down 17.6%), robberies (down 12.4%), rapes (down 18.2%), and domestic violence incidents (down 11.1). Even aggravated assaults remained flat, with only a slight increase of 1.9%. We are achieving better public safety results, and it shows.
Under PSN, we have also stepped up our prevention of additional violence by engaging in increased and consistent public awareness efforts. With the “Fed Up” campaign that communicates that Gun Crime is Max Time, we are warning people of real consequences. With our adult and juvenile Ceasefire program, we are educating young people in our communities to make wise future choices. Partnering with the ATF, the “Don’t Lie for the Other Guy” campaign seeks to prevent straw purchases of firearms for felons. And with our increased media releases, the U.S. Attorney’s Office is telling the public about federal indictments, convictions, and sentences that create general and specific deterrence. We are sending a strong message, and it shows.
These sustained decreases in reported gun crimes and major violent gun crime categories are encouraging, and shows that our return to proven enforcement policies under PSN is working. Putting the right people in prison incapacitates the most violent offenders, upholds the rule of law, deters criminal conduct with a strong message of significant consequences, and makes us all safer. We are on the right track, and it shows.
D. Michael Dunavant is the United States Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee.