Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales Announces New Efforts to Combat Violent Crime
WASHINGTON – Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales today unveiled new Department of Justice efforts to assist federal, state and local law enforcement in combating violent crime. Part of the Department’s Initiative for Safer Communities, today’s announcement calls for more prosecutors, new training, additional funds, enhanced prevention efforts and a crack down against America’s most violent offenders.
“It is hard to hope, and it is hard to pursue your dreams, if you live in fear and grow up in a neighborhood that is weighed down by gangs and violent crime,” said Attorney General Gonzales. “Since each community faces unique challenges when it comes to violent crime, partnerships among local law enforcement and community groups that tailor answers to that community are critical. The federal government can, however, offer some unique assistance. Today, I am calling for a refocus and an increase in intensity of violent-crime-fighting efforts at the federal level.”
While overall crime rates are historically low in America, certain types of violent crime increased in 2005 in some cities across the nation. In fall 2006, Attorney General Gonzales launched the Initiative for Safer Communities to investigate these recent increases and devise solutions to help communities struggling with violent crime. Department of Justice officials visited 18 metropolitan areas. Many of the jurisdictions visited by Department officials experienced increases in homicide or robbery rates in recent years, while others experienced decreases. Although many of these problems can only be solved through the attention of state legislatures, city councils, state and local law enforcement agencies and the leadership of local officials, the Department of Justice has an important role to play in helping state and local governments fight crime in their communities.
The Department’s new efforts to combat violent crime build upon this formula for success, strengthening partnerships among federal, state and local law enforcement, as well as community leaders, while targeting the “worst of the worst” offenders across the nation. These new initiatives will complement the Department’s existing efforts, such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) Violent Crime Impact Teams, FBI’s Safe Streets task forces and National Gang Intelligence Center, the U.S. Marshals Service’s (USMS) Regional Fugitive Task Forces and district fugitive task forces, the Criminal Division-led national Gang Targeting, Enforcement & Coordination Center (GangTECC), Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), and the anti-gang strategies that are already in place in each judicial district across the country.
The following new initiatives focus on the three primary areas: expanding current federal law enforcement efforts that target gang violence and criminal misuse of firearms; providing assistance to state and local law enforcement who are the primary responders for violent crime; and working with Congress to strengthen laws and increase penalties for violent crime offenders.
EXPANDING FEDERAL LAW ENFORCEMENT EFFORTS:
Federal agents and prosecutors have a strong track record of identifying offenders whose crimes are appropriate for federal prosecution, and successfully targeting, apprehending and bringing these individuals to justice. U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and Department law enforcement agencies throughout the country have effectively leveraged the assets of the federal system by concentrating their violent crime investigative and prosecutorial efforts on the most serious violent offenders in their jurisdictions, and today’s announcements reinforce that strategy and provide resources to support it.
Today, Attorney General Gonzales directed all federal prosecutors and Department law enforcement components to work with state and local law enforcement and prosecutors to identify violent crime cases that can be most effectively prosecuted in the federal system. Often, these cases will focus on the “worst of the worst” violent offenders. Targeting these “worst of the worst” offenders will ensure that violent individuals who post the most significant danger to our communities are met with the most effective and vigorous prosecutorial tools available.
To support this effort, the Department is in the process of hiring at least 70 prosecutors, enabling our U.S. Attorney’s Offices to increase their efforts to prosecute violent crime.
All Justice Department law enforcement agencies will develop and launch a new series of coordinated takedowns and fugitive sweeps aimed at removing the maximum number of violent offenders from some of America’s most vulnerable communities. Specifically, federal law enforcement will conduct these coordinated fugitive sweeps and takedowns in six additional cities this calendar year. The goal for these six additional operations will be both to remove the maximum number of violent offenders and to develop a tough new law enforcement model that can be used to target and reduce violent crime across the country.
USMS will conduct a Fugitive Safe Surrender program in at least three additional cities this calendar year. Fugitive Safe Surrender is a powerful new initiative that encourages persons wanted for felony or misdemeanor crimes to voluntarily surrender to the law in a neutral setting. Authorized by Congress in July 2006, the Marshals Service has recently conducted successful operations in Cleveland, Phoenix, and Indianapolis, resulting in the surrender of more than 2,600 individuals, including over 700 wanted for felony warrants.
ATF will expand the “Don’t Lie for the Other Guy” program, developed in partnership with the National Shooting Sports Foundation, to educate federal firearms licensees (FFLs) on how to detect and deter illegal “straw purchases,” enhance our partnership with FFLs to prevent and deter these illegal purchases, and educate the public that engaging in straw purchases is illegal under federal law.
ATF will also expand their Violent Crime Impact Team (VCIT) initiative that has already targeted crime in 25 cities to include five additional cities in the next year.
The FBI in 2007 has expanded its Violent Gang and Violent Crime Safe Streets Task Forces to seven additional locations, bringing the total number of Safe Streets Task Forces to 176, and will add at least two more by the end of the year.
PROVIDING ASSISTANCE TO STATE AND LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT:
The brave men and women of state and local law enforcement are the primary responders to violent crime in their communities. Building on the expertise of state and local law enforcement, today’s announcement will also provide additional funding, assistance and training to law enforcement officers and other local partners across the nation.
The Department is making $125 million available to State and local governments and law enforcement to prevent and control crime, and support the administration of justice. A particular focus of this grant program is to support law enforcement task forces. Task forces–made up of veteran local law enforcement, working with federal law enforcement–can speed relief to those communities experiencing an increase in violent crime.
The Department will distribute over $18 million in grant funds among the 94 federal judicial districts to support PSN efforts to reduce and prevent criminal misuse of firearms. The Department is also providing an additional $31 million to support expanded PSN efforts to combat gang violence nationwide. This funding is in addition to the $2.5 million in grant funding announced by the Attorney General in April 2007 to each of the new Comprehensive Anti-Gang initiative sites: Indianapolis, Oklahoma City, Rochester and Raleigh/Durham.
The Department will provide comprehensive anti-gang training for state and local law enforcement and other partners around the nation. This training program represents the first time all components within the Department of Justice, including the ATF, DEA, FBI, USMS, Office of Justice Programs, Criminal Division, U.S. Attorneys Offices, and the Bureau of Prisons, will deliver a coordinated, single anti-gang training curriculum to state and local law enforcement focusing on prevention, enforcement and prison re-entry.
The Department of Justice will offer expanded gun and gang violence reduction training and technical assistance for state and local law enforcement and community partners through Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN). Since 2001, the national PSN training and technical assistance partners have trained more than 30,000 individuals across the nation who work to make our communities safer. Training will include on-site assistance on topics such as crime and violence prevention strategies, gang and gun crime enforcement and prosecution, engaging the community to help prevent and solve crimes, and assisting offenders in returning to the community.
STRENGTHENING THE LAWS AND INCREASING FUNDING:
In addition to our increased law enforcement efforts and assistance to state and locals, the Department of Justice is committed to working closely with Congress to strengthen our laws and provide the necessary assistance to law enforcement around the nation who are on the front lines in the fight against violent crime.
The Department’s FY 2008 budget request includes $200 million for Violent Crime Reduction Partnership grants and over $13 million for other violent-crime-related enhancements that will support the Department’s Project Safe Neighborhoods enforcement efforts, increase the Department’s ability to target firearms traffickers, and increase the prosecution of gangs and violent criminals.
The Department will work with Congress on developing a new crime bill that will amend and strengthen existing laws to ensure that federal law enforcement agencies are able to successfully investigate and prosecute many types of violent crime.
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