SOLUTIONS FOR THE GUN PROBLEM WHICH WORK
For more than a decade the newspaper headlines have read the same: Another Murder in the City of Richmond; Murder Rate Rises; Gun Violence Continues. It was stark reality that the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia was routinely among the five cities with the worst per capita murder rates in the country. Even while homicide rates were dropping in many areas of the country, they were actually increasing in Richmond. The use of guns by drug dealers, the willingness of many to flaunt the law and carry weapons, and a high incidence of domestic violence, fueled this high and ever increasing murder rate.
In 1997, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia developed and initiated Project Exile in Richmond, aimed at reducing the senseless and unbridled violence, which was plaguing the city. Project Exile is an aggressive, innovative, and creative approach to reducing the murder rate, by changing the culture of violence in Richmond through a comprehensive, multi-dimensional strategy. This strategy includes both law enforcement and prosecution components aimed at deterrence, as well as community outreach and education programs focusing on prevention.
Project Exile is simple and straightforward in its execution, and requires relatively limited prosecution and law enforcement resources. The program’s focus and message is clear, concise, easily understood, and most importantly, unequivocal: AN ILLEGAL GUN GETS YOU FIVE YEARS IN FEDERAL PRISON For criminals carrying guns, the consequences have been swift, certain, and severe. For the citizens of Richmond, the results have been dramatic. They have taken back their neighborhoods, and now live in safer communities where houses can become homes, and neighbors can truly become friends.
The law enforcement and prosecution components of our strategy take full advantage of stiffer bond rules and sentencing guidelines available in federal court. In every case in Richmond where it is appropriate, felons with guns, drug dealers who use or possess firearms, and those using guns during domestic violence, are prosecuted federally. The project has fully integrated and coordinated local, state and federal (BATF/FBI) law enforcement agencies, and local and federal prosecutors. This widely based task force accomplishes prompt identification of a potential Project Exile defendant through the use of an expedited reporting system, which has decreased processing time from several months to several days. In court, bond is routinely and successfully opposed, defendants receive speedy trials and mandatory minimum sentences are imposed. The average sentence for a Project Exile defendant is an impressive 56 months. With swift and certain justice, the project has deterred violent crime in the City of Richmond by changing the culture of violence and criminal behavior.
The other major and essential component of the project addresses prevention. Project Exile has been an innovative community outreach and education initiative, using various media to get the message to the criminals that illegal guns are unacceptable, and will not be tolerated. More importantly, it has built a community alliance directed at the problem. A coalition of business, community and church leaders, and organizations such as the Retail Merchant’s Association and the Chamber of Commerce, has been assembled to promote the project. The coalition, operating as the Project Exile Citizen Support Foundation, has funded a creative advertising campaign, including TV and radio commercials, billboards, a city bus completely painted black bearing the logo An Illegal Gun Gets You 5 Years in Federal Prison, 15,000+ business cards with the same message distributed on the street by local police, and a print advertising campaign. This outreach program has been extremely successful, increasing citizen reports about guns, and energizing the community to support police efforts.
Through these efforts, hundreds of armed criminals have been removed from Richmond’s streets. One violent gang, responsible for many murders, has been dismantled, its members now in prison. The rate of gun carrying by criminals has been significantly reduced, protecting not only the public but our police officers as well. Officers now report seeing drug dealers throwing down weapons before running from police, instead of taking the risk of being caught with a weapon. Information obtained from Project Exile defendants has been crucial to solving a large number of homicides. Most importantly, these efforts appear to be stemming the tide of violence. Homicides in 1998 were approximately 33% below 1997, for the lowest number since 1987. In the same period, armed robberies declined 30%. In 1999, homicides dropped another 21 %. And the numbers are continuing to drop this year. As a result, the citizens not only feel safer, they are safer.
Because of the demonstrated results in Richmond, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Virginia has expanded Project Exile to the Tidewater area of Virginia, and is committed to continuing Project Exile as long as the need exists. Other cities have taken note of Project Exile’s impact on the City of Richmond. Project Exile’s concepts have been fully implemented in Rochester, New York, which is already seeing success similar to that in Richmond. Other cities, such as Philadelphia, PA, Oakland, CA, Birmingham, AL, Baton Rouge, LA, and Camden, NJ, are in the process of implementing projects based on the Richmond model.
Project Exile has proven that a comprehensive, multi-dimensional strategy can and will work. It can be a vital tool in accomplishing one of President Clinton’s top priorities - reducing the gun violence on our streets.
Project Exile is a comprehensive, multi-dimensional program by the United States Attorney’s Office, B.A.T.F., U.S. Marshal, and FBI, in coordination with the Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, Richmond Police Department, the Virginia Attorney General, the Virginia State Police, and the business community and citizens of Richmond to reduce gun violence and remove armed criminals from Richmond streets. The project has made significant strides since it was announced on February 28, 1997, but reducing gun violence requires a coordinated community response to ensure continued success.
1. The Problem.
Gun violence has plagued Richmond for the last ten years, with Richmond consistently ranking in the top five murder per capita rates for the country. Thus, while homicide rates were dropping across the country, in Richmond they were actually increasing. In 1997, 140 people were murdered, 122 of them with firearms. Ordinary citizens live in fear, held hostage in their own homes by the gun violence on the streets. The drain on the business community is real and economic development opportunities are lost. Business employees are in danger of being murdered in robberies. Brave police officers face this danger every day. The toll this places on us all is simply incalculable.
Different causes play a role in the grim statistics. It is a fact that criminals in this city are regularly armed and willing to use weapons. By 1997, the link between drug dealing and guns had escalated to the point that almost every drug dealer was fully armed with high powered, readily accessible firearms, and they frequently used guns to steal from competitors, deter stealing, and carry out revenge. Even without the drug connection, for a variety of reasons, the police report a greater willingness of many on the street to carry weapons. This obviously contributes to the violence.
Behind the total statistics is also an important picture. Those being killed are not just criminals. In fact, while a large percentage of the homicide toll is connected to drugs, there is more to that story. In 1998, 80% of all homicide victims were African-American, which places a grievous toll on one particular segment of the community. Half of the victims had no prior criminal record, which demonstrates that many persons killed were unlikely to have been involved in criminal activity leading to the homicide. Finally, the average age of homicide victims in 1998 was 28.2 years.
2. The Response - Project Exile.
a) Law Enforcement
Project Exile is named for the idea that if the police catch a criminal in Richmond with a gun, the criminal has forfeited his right to remain in the community. The criminal will face immediate federal prosecution and stiff mandatory federal prison sentences (often five to ten years), and will be exiled to federal prison.
The innovative organizational aspects for the investigation/apprehension/ prosecution parts of the project include:
1. full coordination from the officer on the beat to the federal prosecutor;
2. full coordination with the local Commonwealth Attorney’s Office and the Virginia
Attorney General’s Office, with each office detailing a staff prosecutor to the U.S. Attorney’s Office to assist in prosecutions;
3. active coordination of all police agencies (Richmond Police Department, Virginia State
Police, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation), a simplified reporting system; and,
4. coordinated use of innovative and aggressive policing methods such as traffic checkpoints to locate drugs and guns.
When a police officer finds a gun during the officer’s duties, the officer pages an ATF agent (24 hours a day). They review the circumstances and determine whether a federal statute applies.
The United States Code contains a series of statutes that can be used against the armed criminal. In summary, felons, drug users, fugitives, illegal aliens, and those convicted of domestic violence are prohibited from possessing firearms. Similarly, carrying a firearm in connection with drug dealing in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) carries a mandatory five year jail term.1
Federal prosecution is particularly effective for a number of reasons. First, the project takes an aggressive position against bond, and this approach has succeeded in taking defendants off the street. The federal bond statutes provide for holding a defendant without bond when the defendant poses a danger to the community. In this regard, for example, armed drug dealers are presumed to be dangerous and bear the burden of justifying release on some form of bond. Shifting this burden concerning bond has resulted in the vast majority of Exile defendants being held without bond.
Second, the federal system applies a mandatory sentencing guideline system in which a court’s sentencing discretion is limited. Therefore, for a given type of firearm violation, the penalty is clear, substantial, and served in full without parole. Thus, an armed criminal is truly exiled from the community. In both jury and bench trials, the prosecution has prevailed and lengthy prison sentences have been imposed.
Finally, defendants know that a federal jail term will likely be served elsewhere in the country. This has a major impact because serving a jail sentence among friends and acquaintances is seen by the defendants as much less onerous than serving time in a prison out of state. Anecdotally, defendants have expressed more concern about where they serve their time than whether they will be going to prison.
Since Project Exile was announced, experience demonstrates that federal prosecutors can undertake a large-scale prosecution effort of gun crimes with relatively limited personnel resources, and with a quick disposition of cases. It is estimated that an average of approximately 3 Assistant United States Attorneys and Special Assistant United States Attorneys have been utilized on Project Exile, including prosecutors detailed from the Richmond Commonwealth Attorney’s Office, Virginia Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Justice. As of October 1, 1999, in Richmond;
a. 544 individuals have been indicted for federal gun violations;
b. 650 guns have been seized;
c. 407 persons have been arrested or are in state custody;
d. 289 arrestees (approx. 71%) have been held without bond;
e. 389 have been convicted;
f. 317 have been sentenced and the average sentence is 56 months.
c) Project Exile Citizen Support Foundation
To this end, it was announced in July 1997 that several civic leaders and community groups had formed the Project Exile Citizen Support Foundation to support Project Exile with a variety of public outreach and education efforts through various media. The Foundation was created by a prominent Richmond attorney whose law firm provided free legal work to create the Foundation, registered it as a tax exempt organization, and handled the contracting issues for the various media contracts. Tens of thousands of dollars have been raised for the media effort, and thousands more were raised in the form of donated media time and support.
d) Media efforts
The Foundation has been instrumental in the affirmative use of the media carrying the message An Illegal Gun Gets You Five Years in Federal Prison, and asking citizens to anonymously report guns on the street to the Metro Richmond Crime Stoppers telephone number. The Martin Agency, a prominent national advertising agency located in Richmond, provided substantial creative and production assistance at no cost to develop ways to get the message out to the community. The message has been distributed through 15 billboards, a fully painted city bus which covers the entire city by changing routes each day, TV commercials, Metro Richmond traffic reports, over a million supermarket bags urging support of Project Exile, and 15,000+ business cards with the message distributed on the street by local police and print advertising.
The media outreach effort has substantially reduced street carrying rates. In addition, primarily as a result of the citizen outreach through the media/advertising effort, more citizens are reporting guns on the street, and a large number of gun cases result from citizen calls.
3. City of Richmond’s commitment to Project Exile
The goal of Project Exile is simply to make Richmond’s streets safe for all of its citizens. Any Richmonder knows what a great city Richmond is to live, work, own and operate a business, raise a family, and enjoy all the community has to offer. Unfortunately, the city’s image has been tarnished with regular stories in the national media about the city’s high per capita murder rate. Recognizing the potential of Project Exile, the City of Richmond government has strongly supported the effort in several ways.
a) Richmond Police Department
Any law enforcement effort directed at homicides on the street relies first on the full commitment of the local police force. From its inception, Project Exile has been fully supported by Richmond Police Chief Jerry Oliver, and his Deputy Chiefs. The project was conceived and developed with their direct input and ideas. First, the Richmond Police Department assigned three officers full-time to the Exile task force.
Second, the Richmond Police Department has organized several training programs for all of its officers to educate the officers regarding federal laws and involve the officers in the project. Each Richmond Police Officer also carries a laminated card which summarizes the federal firearm statutes and provides a 24-hour pager number if questions on firearms violations arise in the field.
Third, the department has improved its procedures for the handling and tracing of firearms. The Richmond Police Department insures that all firearms are traced in coordination with ATF and insures that all firearms seizures are considered for inclusion in Project Exile.
Fourth, the Richmond Police Department has actively participated in the public outreach effort.
Project Exile is not just a Federal initiative. Rather, Project Exile is a true team effort in which the Richmond Police Department plays a large and key role. Project Exile could not be successful without the full commitment of the Richmond Police Department.
4. Media coverage
Experience in Project Exile has demonstrated that getting the message out to both the criminals and the community is a continuing requirement to ensure success. As part of this effort, Project Exile has received various other news media coverage explaining the project and its success.
a) Richmond Times Dispatch/Richmond Free Press/Hard Times
The Richmond Times Dispatch has played a central role, through its coverage of federal court proceedings, in publicizing the project and its purposes. The coverage of Project Exile related matters has been extensive, balanced, and has informed the public of the project’s purposes and success. The project would not be the success it has been without professional and detailed reporting in the paper.
Similarly, the Richmond Free Press, a newspaper directed toward the African-American community, has provided important coverage of the project’s success. This coverage is important because the African-American community has been particularly victimized by armed criminal violence. Full-page ads were run in early 1999 regarding the project.
Finally, the Virginia Coalition for the Homeless’ bi-weekly newspaper ran full-page ads in January and February 1999 in support of the project. These ads reached many of those most affected by the problem of criminal violence.
b) National News
In July 1998, the Fox Network national news division produced a report which aired nationally on July 15, 1998. The report commented favorably on the project and its success. As a result, the U.S. Attorney’s Office received inquiries from cities around the country about the project and whether it could be emulated in their localities.
As a result of the creative approach taken in Project Exile, CBS and ABC have highlighted the program in their broadcasts. The reports gave national exposure to the good news that Richmond’s criminal violence is being substantially reduced.
c) Local T.V.
The United States Attorney conducted a series of interviews with reporters from each of the local T.V. stations to discuss Project Exile and its success continuing the high public visibility of the project.
d) National print media coverage
In June 1998, the project began receiving national attention through various media including the Washington Post, New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, U.S. News and World Report, U.S.A. Today, Crime Prevention News, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times. As a result, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has received numerous inquiries from jurisdictions around the country and is providing information to replicate the project in those areas.
e) Metro Traffic Reports
Project Exile began a traffic report sponsorship campaign in which each traffic report has a message that the report is sponsored by Project Exile, and following the report the announcer gives a message explaining the basic premise of the project. Subsequent messages provide a phone number which can be used to anonymously report armed criminals. This campaign has helped get the message out that armed criminals will be prosecuted federally, detained without bond, and receive mandatory sentences.
5. National organization endorsements
The coordinated approach to removing the armed criminal from Richmond’s streets has received national attention beyond the electronic media. National groups crossing the political spectrum have reviewed and endorsed the project’s approach. In 1998, the U.S. Attorney’s Office received a letter of endorsement from Mr. Wayne LaPierre and Ms. Tanya Metaksa on behalf of the National Rifle Association, as well as a letter from Mrs. Sarah Brady on behalf of Handgun Control, Inc. As their letters makes clear, no matter what one’s views are regarding the myriad issues involved in the ongoing gun control debate, all parties can agree that vigorous prosecution and sentencing of the armed criminal is not only appropriate, but also the first step in eliminating this modern terrorist from our streets.
Recent academic studies, comparing crime and punishment rates in various countries, have made clear that swift, sure, and substantial prosecution punishment of violent crime will result in a reduction of those crime rates. By any measure, applying this principle, Project Exile has been an unqualified success. In a very brief time period, the project has removed a large number of criminals predisposed to violence from the streets of Richmond. The project has also demonstrated substantial reductions in gun carrying by criminals. In Richmond, the homicide rate has been significantly reduced. While many factors have contributed to the reduction, there is no doubt that project Exile has been a major factor. Homicides in 1998 were down 33% from 1997 and for 1999 through 18 March, homicides are down 97% from the same date in 1998. The homicide rate in 1998 was the lowest in the city since 1987.
Any one of numerous anecdotes tells the story as well:
A. In the spring 1998, in the execution of a search warrant, a defendant was caught with substantial quantities of drugs. What was unique was that no guns were found in the search. This was the first time anyone could remember a defendant with so much narcotics not being armed. The defendant was questioned extensively about where the guns were, with the defendant vehemently denying having any guns. Finally, somewhat exasperated, the defendant looked at the prosecutor and said, "Haven’t you heard man? Five years!" It was clear that the advertising message, Ana illegal gun gets you five years in federal prison, had gotten through to its primary target audience.
B. In another case, again in an interrogation, a drug/gun defendant patiently explained how he understood the feds had a special T.V. channel going into the projects to spread the message that the feds were cracking down on guns. He was referring to the T.V. commercials run at the end of 1997 on Fox-35 and several cable channels. He got the message even while overestimating the degree of the advertising.
C. In a recent case concerning the sentencing of a defendant, the defendant wrote to the U.S. Attorney complaining that the sentence he would be getting under the federal sentencing guidelines was too harsh in that it was based in part on his juvenile convictions. It was clear he had seen the outreach media message because he wrote in his letter,
I’m writing to you in reference to my Presentence Investigation Report. My charge is possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. My sentence guideline is 77 -96 months. In reaching my sentence guideline, the probation officer used 3 charges from my juvenile record on page 4 of my Presentence Investigation. .... in all do respect, I think going back to my juvenile record is a little too much. Even the bus and the billboard says five years. ... (emphasis added)
D. In April 1998, a probation officer advised the United States Attorney’s Office that
he had been talking with a supervised defendant who had been engaged in drug dealing for many years. The defendant gestured to a poster on the wall with the Exile campaign message (Ana Illegal Gun Gets You Five Years In Federal Prison) and said, "You got that right!" He explained to the probation officer that the word on the street now is that if you sell drugs, then sell drugs but "don’t be carrying no gun." He said the message had gotten to the criminal element. Breaking the gun/drug link is the single most important factor in reducing street violence and murders.
E. In June 1998, a plainclothes detective reported stopping three individuals on the street who met the radioed description of three individuals wanted for a recent crime. The detective detained the three and did a safety patdown for weapons. He asked one of the three if he had any weapons. The person responded, "Are you crazy. That Exile thing will put you away for five years. I’d be an old man when I got out!" None of the individuals were in fact carrying firearms.
The criminal element is clearly getting the message.
11. Future Efforts
a) Commitment to the comprehensive effort in Richmond.
Recent statistics show that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia now ranks second among federal districts in prosecuting federal firearm violations. The U.S. Attorney is proud of this long-term commitment to addressing the problem of violent crime in the District and intends to continue the Office’s focus on armed criminals.
Because success requires a sustained commitment, the federal and local authorities have pledged to continue the program as long as the need exists. Additional manpower has been assigned by the Richmond Police Department and the Virginia State Police, along with additional FBI and ATF resources requested. The Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney has detailed an experienced prosecutor to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Virginia Attorney General also detailed an attorney to the Richmond U.S. Attorney’s Office to assist in trials. In addition, the Department of Justice has detailed attorneys on a temporary basis to assist with Project Exile cases.
b) Expansion of Project Exile to other areas
In January 1998, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced the expansion of the project to the Norfolk area. Certain areas in the Tidewater area also have high homicide rates, and it is expected that significant reductions can be achieved there as well. Since Project Exile began in the Tidewater area, 112 indictments have been brought, 43 individuals have been convicted and the average sentence is 64.4 months. To date, 279 guns have been seized.
VIRGINIA’S SUPPORT OF PROJECT EXILE, VIRGINIA’S STATE COMPLEMENT: VIRGINIA EXILE
I. Commonwealth of Virginia’s commitment to Project Exile
The Commonwealth of Virginia has supported the United States Attorney’s Office with Project Exile in a number of important respects. This support is indicative of the team approach taken throughout the project.
1) Virginia Attorney General
In October 1998, Virginia Attorney General Mark Earley announced that an attorney from the Attorney General’s Criminal Division would be detailed to serve in the U.S. Attorney’s Office as a full-time prosecutor for gun related crimes under Project Exile.
2) Richmond Commonwealth Attorney’s Office
Project Exile has been a cooperative program with the Richmond Commonwealth Attorney’s Office since the beginning. David Hicks, the Commonwealth Attorney, has provided a prosecutor from his office to assist in the prosecution of Exile cases.
3) Virginia State Police
Since the beginning of the project, the Virginia State Police have been a partner in the effort. The Virginia State Police have assigned state troopers to the task force of agents to expedite the preparation of investigation reports, and assist in the apprehension of armed criminals. The importance of this contribution cannot be overstated.
4) Virginia Governor
In 1998, Virginia’s Governor, Jim Gilmore, also endorsed and lent his support to Project Exile. In particular, in September Gov. Gilmore hosted a dinner for many of Richmond’s business and political leaders, at the governor’s mansion to encourage support for Project Exile. Support by Richmond’s business community has been a critical part of the success of the media outreach effort.
II. Virginia Exile
The 1999 Session of the General Assembly passed a battery of stiffer statutes in Virginia State Law which bring the state law in line with its federal counterpart. The package was dubbed "Virginia Exile" and it changed penalties for firearm charges as well as incorporating bail reform in the state laws. These statutes took effect July 1, 1999. The state’s laws on the possession of illegal guns are the toughest they have ever been.
Through Virginia Exile, the state will provide financial and technical assistance, and specialized training, to selected localities to help them reduce gun-related violence and get illegal firearms off their streets. The purpose of Virginia Exile is to reduce gun violence and homicide by: 1) enabling local prosecutors and law enforcement officials to identify and aggressively prosecute using newly strengthened state law and bail procedures persons charged with illegally possessing and using firearms; and, 2) assisting localities in organizing community-based and community supported public awareness efforts aimed at deterring gun violence by highlighting the enhanced enforcement/prosecution efforts and the certainty of punishment upon conviction.
Specifically, Virginia Exile addressed four major areas:
A. Possession of Firearm on School Property-Now one convicted of this offense stands subject to a five year mandatory minimum prison sentence with no opportunity for parole. The sentence may not be suspended in whole or in part and, as in the federal system, must be served consecutive to any other sentence. (Virginia Code Section 18.2-308.1)
B. Possession of Firearm by Convicted Felon - Formerly in Virginia, this offense did not carry a mandatory minimum sentence. Now, one convicted of a violent felony faces a mandatory minimum prison sentence of five years in prison with no opportunity for parole. The sentence must be served consecutive to any other sentence and may not be suspended by the court. One convicted of a nonviolent felony faces a two-year mandatory minimum prison sentence which also must be served consecutive to any other sentence and may not be suspended by the court. (Virginia Code Sections 18.2-308.2, 17.1-805 (defining Acts of Violence)).
C. Simultaneous Possession of Guns and Drugs-One who simultaneously possesses a firearm and controlled substance faces a mandatory minimum five year sentence and this sentence is also to be served consecutive to any other sentence and may not be suspended by the court. Note: This provision is a stricter law than its federal counterpart, for in order to be susceptible to a mandatory five year sentence in the federal system the defendant must possess a firearm in connection with the dealing of drugs, not mere possession. (Virginia Code Section 18.2-308.4)
D. Bond Reform-Virginia’s bail statutes were also amended to state, in pertinent part, that when a person is charged with: a) possessing a firearm while simultaneously possessing a controlled substance, b) possession of a firearm on school property or c) possession of a firearm by a convicted felon there is a rebuttable presumption that no conditions of bail can reasonably assure the protection of the community or the appearance of the person at subsequent hearings. The bail statues further provide that the Commonwealth’s Attorney has the right to appeal, up to the Supreme Court of Virginia, any bond set over its objection. (Virginia Code Sections 19.2-119 through 19.2-124)
E. Cooperation Between State and Federal Agencies
Now that Virginia Exile laws are in effect, in Richmond, the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office and the United States Attorney’s Office have formed a committee, The Exile Coordinating Committee, comprised of attorneys and law enforcement personnel to review cases that fall under the Project Exile and Virginia Exile umbrellas. This committee meets regularly and considers on a case by case basis whether a case will be prosecuted in state or federal court. In the decision-making process, the emphasis is placed on which jurisdiction will be able to secure the longest sentence.
In other jurisdictions in Virginia, the laws of Virginia Exile may still be prosecuted aggressively and local media campaigns may be launched. Recently Governor Gilmore has made funds available to four to six jurisdictions in the state, to apply towards the hiring of specific prosecutors for Virginia Exile. Factors taken into account in determining the eligible localities were the numbers of convictions in each locality for offenses specifically targeted by Virginia Exile, such as weapons possession or use, other related or designated offenses, and prior convictions of those arrested. A distinct statewide ad campaign for Virginia Exile has also been mounted and can be seen on bumper stickers on State Police vehicles as well as on billboards as one enters Virginia from other states on interstate highways. While Virginia Exile seeks to replicate the successful model developed in Richmond in other localities using the state criminal justice system, Commonwealth Attorneys from the localities receiving funds will be expected to establish partnership agreements with the federal prosecutors and federal law enforcement agencies serving their jurisdictions. Virginia Exile projects will be established on a sound footing with the state and local support they need for long-term success, while continuing to promote federal involvement and cooperation.
F. STAFFING PROJECT EXILE
The Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office has a team of attorneys and their attorney on assignment to the United States Attorney’s Office, committed to handling Virginia Exile cases from arrest to disposition. These attorneys appear at arraignments and bond hearings for all individuals arrested under the state gun law package and in appropriate cases, appeal bond rulings to the next higher court. A similar practice with respect to full responsibility and vertical prosecution will likely be adopted by various Virginia localities as Virginia Exile is implemented statewide.
It is not an exaggeration to say that armed criminals can and do terrorize our cities. Senseless violence tears at the very fiber of our community, and we cannot allow that to continue. We must deal with these criminals swiftly and firmly, so that our citizens can return to a level of normalcy, where decent, law-abiding people can live, work, and most importantly raise this nation’s next generation of young adults.
However, federal prosecutions alone cannot put an end to the tragedy of violence in our cities. A sustained and comprehensive community effort is critical to our ultimate success. With Virginia Exile and the leadership of community-based organizations, such as those mentioned above, and with the support of those living in the community, we can overcome both the cause and the effect of the unbridled and unprecedented violence we have all seen.
While Project Exile is only be part of the solution, it can send and enforce a very important message to the criminal element: an illegal gun will get you five years in prison; there will be no bond, no deal, no parole. There will only be prison.
This is a proven strategy, and it is making a difference.