Project Safe Neighborhoods
Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) is a nationwide commitment to reduce gun and gang crime in America by networking existing local programs that target gun and gun crime and providing these programs with additional tools necessary to be successful. Since its inception in 2001, approximately $2 billion has been committed to this initiative. This funding has being used to hire new federal and state prosecutors, support investigators, provide training, distribute gun lock safety kits, deter juvenile gun crime, and develop and promote community outreach efforts as well as to support other gun and gang violence reduction strategies.
PSN Target Enforcement Areas: San Antonio; Austin; Killeen; Odessa
United States Attorney: Jaime Esparza
Enforcement Strategy. The Western District of Texas (WDTX or the District) has a population of almost seven million people. It encompasses 68 counties, 93,000 square miles, and extends over 600 miles along the border with Mexico. PSN strategies are in place in four locations within the WDTX: San Antonio, Austin, the Killeen, and Odessa. These efforts have had a marked impact on violent crime in the targeted areas. In each of the four TEA locations, the United States Attorney’s Office collaborates with federal, state, and local law enforcement and the local District Attorneys’ Offices to strategically target areas for increased enforcement and to target violent individuals and gangs posing the most serious threat to public safety. The WDTX enjoys a strong working relationship with the local District Attorney’s Offices. Federal and state prosecutors communicate closely to choose the best venue (state or federal) for prosecution of these offenders, considering available statutes, punishments, evidentiary rules, detention capabilities and the need to obtain evidence beyond local jurisdiction. The targeted areas, individuals, and gangs are well-known to area law enforcement, local prosecutors’ offices, probation and parole offices, and community groups. Review of area crime statistics are used as one measure of success and to plan future efforts.
Other Partners. The District is a partner in the Texas Anti-Gang Center (TAG) in San Antonio, an effort established by the State of Texas to promote collaboration between federal, state, and local law enforcement in gang investigations and intelligence gathering.
The District’s PSN efforts on the east side of San Antonio and in Killeen have been successful. In San Antonio, the east side has been a hot bed of violence since the 1990s. This violence is due in large part to the conflict between the Bloods and Crips gangs. These gangs have engaged in narcotics and firearms trafficking, as well as regular drive-by shootings, murders, and prostitution. In 2017, the gang violence came to a head when a four year old boy was the victim of a drive-by shooting. The child was shot in the head with a .223 round as he played video games in his home with his eight year old brother. In response, the San Antonio Violent Crime Task Force coordinated to infiltrate the east side and stop the violence. Over the course of about six months, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, United States Marshals Service, San Antonio Police Department, Bexar County Sheriff’s Office, and the Texas Department of Public Safety joined together to conduct operations, investigations, and raids of the gang members. The United States Attorney’s Office in San Antonio brought numerous federal narcotics and firearms indictments charging the warring gang members. The Bexar County District Attorney’s Office also brought numerous state indictments. The USMS conducted extensive targeted round ups in the area pursuant to Operation Triple Beam. As soon as these arrests were made, and defendants detained, peace fell upon that east side neighborhood. Police received calls from churches, business, and neighbors commenting on how peaceful and calm their neighborhood had become. Stores that were closed reopened. Children began playing in the parks again. Neighbors have told the SAPD Officer that in their lifetime of living there, they have never experienced such peace and calm. San Antonio’s targeted enforcement efforts made a true difference in that community.
Killeen is one of the most violent cities in the state. Since 2002, Killeen’s violent crime rate has been consistently higher than like size cities in the State of Texas and the United States. The violent crime rate jumped by 20 percent from 2013 to 2016. By 2016, it was 43 percent higher than the rate of similar-sized U.S. cities. Aggravated assaults nearly doubled from 1997 to 2016 (98 percent). Murders quadrupled from 1997 to 2016 (400 percent). In 2016, Killeen’s murder rate was 111 percent higher than the United States’ rate and 72 percent higher than the rate in similar-sized cities. In 2017, Killeen’s violent-crime rate was the highest in the history of the city. Eighteen homicides were committed last year; approximately 85 percent of those were committed with a firearm. Since 2016, the Killeen has experienced a financial crisis. Because it is an active-duty military town (Ft. Hood) with a large number of veterans living within the city, the tax base is much smaller than other areas of Texas, presenting unique financial challenges for law-enforcement agencies. The Killeen Police Department’s operating budget fell from 2017 to 2018. In fact, the police department has less operating money now than it did in 2011. In the face of skyrocketing violent crime rates, the city’s resources to address the problem are shrinking.
Late last year, the WDTX began to accept as many firearms cases from Killeen for federal prosecution as we could handle in an effort to remove as many violent criminals from the streets as possible, thereby sending the signal that firearm crime would be punished severely. Aggressive federal prosecution is having an impact. Since October 2017, this office has increased its firearms prosecutions from Killeen over 300% from the same time period a year earlier. The numbers of violent crimes, including homicides, robberies and non-fatal shootings are all down. Aggravated Assaults are beginning to drop. The Killeen Police Chief credits PSN prosecutions with the drop in crime in his city and did so publically in news reports.
Combatting crime on the Border. Due to the proximity of the District to the Republic of Mexico, part of this District’s efforts to combat violent crime include a vigorous OCDETF program. The District’s program aggressively works to disrupt and dismantle international criminal organizations that employ violence on both sides of the border to accomplish their purposes and which are heavily involved in firearm trafficking to further those violent efforts. Significant numbers of cartel assassins and enforcers, and members of violent gangs, cross the border or reside in the United States. These individuals are targeted for arrest and prosecution to discourage them from operating in the United States or using the United States as a safe haven. Additionally, this District works to aggressively combat illegal immigration. OCDETF and PSN are working together in San Antonio and will continue to work on strategies to utilize both programs effectively throughout the WDTX.
Community engagement and prevention. The District’s PSN program incorporates community engagement and prevention programs in San Antonio. The District works with organizations such as San Antonio Fighting Back and other community organizations that provide community outreach, and who work with inmates re-entering the community following their incarceration. This District has worked with the NAACP and other civil rights groups to improve relations with law enforcement. The District has also met with Sikh leaders in San Antonio. The District has also assisted in developing programs in the schools to reduce violence. The entire District works with the probation and parole offices to support their ongoing reentry efforts. On Saturday September 29, 2018, the United States Attorney’ Office and Drug Enforcement Administration hosted a table at the San Antonio Police Department National Night Out Fair. PSN brochures were passed out to fair attendees. Additionally, many of the attendees took several brochures with them to pass out at their own neighborhood National Night Out events. (Picture below). Additionally, the United States Attorney’s office is working with the Sam Houston High School Criminal Justice program. Sam Houston High School is on the east side of San Antonio. It is contained in the area referred to as the “East Side Promise Zone.” This is a nationally identified area as needing additional resources to improve their economy, increase educational resources, and reduce crime. Through this initiative, the US Attorney’s office has partnered with Sam Houston High School to increase educational opportunities. The WDTX has also engaged with local elementary schools in the East Side Promise Zone for District employees read books to students. These outreach efforts are ongoing.
For more information, please log onto: Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN)