PREPARED REMARKS OF MICHAEL SULLIVAN, ACTING DIRECTOR OF THE ATF, AT THE NATIONAL PROJECT SAFE NEIGHBORHOODS CONFERENCE
Good afternoon and welcome to 2007 PSN National Conference. It is a privilege and an honor to be here this afternoon. Before I start, I would like to thank all of you for your participation in this week’s conference and thank you for the great work you do every day in accomplishing the mission of Project Safe Neighborhoods, making communities safer.
I would also like to acknowledge those who made this conference possible – First, Natalie Voris, National PSN Coordinator, and the Firearms Enforcement Assistance Team for their commitment and support of PSN.Karen Schaller (sha-ler), with the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, who I understand is responsible for all of the logistics for the event – thank you. I would also like to thank people of the Firearms Enforcement Assistance Team: Natalie, Karen, Robyn, Jennifer.
It is always a pleasure to visit the Northern District of Georgia, and I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge and thank David Nahmias, the United States Attorney, and his office, for hosting the national conference this year.
I regard Project Safe Neighborhoods as the most significant gun and gang violence reduction effort ever developed in this country. Certainly, everyone in this room has seen the devastating effects that gang violence can have on a community. Fear, intimidation, children held hostage in their own home – unable to play outside, unable to walk to a neighborhood school. This is unacceptable for the greatest country in the world, and this is unacceptable for any neighborhood.
I have had the opportunity to view these issues from the local, state, and now the national level – first as a former District Attorney, as a United States Attorney and as Acting Director of ATF. Although each level of government offers their own unique perspective in addressing the violence – the foundation for and success is solid partnerships at all levels and continual strategic collaboration.
As I speak with local and state law enforcement partners across the country, I am consistently reminded that PSN continues to be a model of interagency collaboration and strategic planning. The recent escalation of violence across the nation, particularly in some of our major cities, is a reminder that we must continually adapt to crime trends, re-evaluating and changing when appropriate, both our shortterm and longterm strategies.
I feel quite fortunate, and honored, that fate has placed me at the helm of the lead law enforcement agency in PSN, affording me the opportunity to witness first-hand, the many unique and innovative strategies implemented in communities across the county. You folks are doing remarkable work, putting together great investigations, and having fantastic results. We all want to do even more.
As you just saw during the unveiling of Project Safe Neighborhoods’ new public service campaign, they are pitching a slightly different message than they have used in the past. I suppose the old adage that you learn something new every day is true…At least you do if you’re paying attention.
We already knew that guns are about five times more likely to be used in a murder than any other weapon. We knew that young people between the ages of 14 and 25 are at the highest risk for using illegal guns. We knew that a significant number of young people in this age group are immersed in a culture of violence and that, about 30 percent of all homicide victims fall within this age group. Young people, culture of violence, gangs and guns – perpetrators and victims. We know that the possibility of spending most of their adult life in federal prison, potential injury and death, are not the primary deterrents for these young people. So, if prison and death don’t resonate, what could?
We learned that they are profoundly affected by how the consequences of their actions might impact their mothers – which was the genesis of previous years’ PSN messaging. This time, the theme has been expanded to highlight not only mothers, but other family members such as brothers or sisters, nieces and nephews, grandparents, and children.
Family –the oldest institution on earth. Even through all the crime and violence, family remains at the center of these individual’s lives. – And for many, the only thing that they really care about.
As I watched these ads for the first time, it reminded me of a pebble being tossed into the water – after its fall, it creates ripples that eventually reach the farthest shores of the pond. These ads remind me of meeting with a group of newly sentenced inmates, and the stone cold eyes that turned to tears when moms, sisters, brothers and children were discussed.
One gunshot engulfs a wide circle of people…… a mother who waits up all night for a son who will not come home.…a child who will never know what it’s like to have the presence of his father…an innocent bystander…
This is why Project Safe Neighborhoods new public service campaign, called Reducing Gun Violence, is targeting NOT ONLY the high risk group of 14 and 25-year-olds ––we’re also targeting parents and other family members.
We’re giving these family members some ammunition of their own, some tools for discussion in persuading that young person in their life, not to carry or use an illegal gun.
The new PSN message will soon be hitting the streets and the airways nationwide. It will be delivered in both Spanish and English, via television, radio and outdoor ads. This has the potential to be a powerful and moving message. This new messaging is just the latest campaign being launched by Project Safe Neighborhoods, which has been this country’s largest and most visible community-based effort to combat violent crime and gang activity for the last 6 years.
There is no doubt in my mind that it is the partnerships that make PSN work -- created when local, state, and federal law enforcement team up with members of the communities they serve to commit themselves to a single, focused goal of reducing violent crime right where they live. It has been an honor for ATF to be a part of this team, and frankly, I believe that we are a better agency because of it.
PSN by its very nature is a force multiplier, and its formula of mutual cooperation and partnering has allowed ATF to be much more effective at what we do best, which is taking weapons off the streets.
Having said that, obviously, the “One Size Fits All” approach to tackling violent crime does not work. This is one reason why PSN is so effective: each local program is tailored to fit the needs of the community. You decide what works, what doesn’t work and what won’t work. In fact, local initiatives often have their own names, such as Project I.C.E., EXILE, CEASE FIRE and others, all reflecting their own local emphasis and approach.
It is this kind of flexibility that makes PSN so incredibly effective in dealing with gun violence in one neighborhood at a time, one perpetrator at a time, one illegal gun at a time, one gang at a time, and one hot-spot at a time.
In support of the PSN strategy, ATF’s primary partnership tool is the Violent Crime Impact Team, in which ATF agents join forces with local police, prosecutors and community leaders to tackle gun violence, gangs, and gun trafficking. ATF’s Violent Crime Impact Teams have provided local communities with innovative technology, analytical investigative resources, and additional ATF agents to identify, disrupt arrest and prosecute the most violent criminals in 29 target cities. These multi-agency teams are exceptionally effective in removing the senior leadership from local gangs, and in removing the most violent offenders from the streets. Through your leadership and direction, it is our goal to continue expanding the Violent Crime Impact Teams into even more cities facing increased gang and armed violence problems. Since the program’s launch in 2004, Violent Crime Impact Teams have recovered over 14,000 firearms and arrested over 11,500 ‘worst of the worst’ offenders, gang members and drug dealers.
PSN has now been the Administration’s principle crime reduction – disruption effort for over 6 years - we should ask the straight question. What about PSN? Is it working? Has it been successful? The simple answer – is yes! You know it and we know it.
First, there is the statistical evidence:
Since its inception in 2001, the Justice Department has filed more than 58,000 federal firearms cases against over 70,000 defendants. This is more than a 100 percent increase over the number of cases filed in the previous six year period. One hundred percent. This only reflects the federal prosecutors, which are only one piece of our PSN strategy. Last year, the conviction rate for firearms defendants was a record 92 percent. The percentage of those defendants sentenced to prison –nearly 94 percent—is also a record high. Impressive numbers, thanks to your efforts and the effort of others around the country. Although the numbers are critically important, the benefits of PSN, and collaboration cannot be measured simply by statistics.
The goal of effective collaborative community partnerships should be to restore fundamental community safety, improve the quality of life of those we serve, and seeing fewer victims.
I believe the most telling proof that the effort has been successful can also be shown through anecdotes. It’s in the eyes of the families and children who live in the affected communities. It’s the confidence of a young couple who takes the risk and opens a new business in an area that was previously considered a high crime area.
I am often reminded of the situation in Clarksdale, Mississippi – a town of only 20,000 - that was plagued with gangs, gun violence and drug dealing. Fear and intimidation had become a way of life for this small town rural community. Just to give you an idea of what was happening, in 14 months, Clarksdale experienced 171 violent gun crimes, including 75 armed robberies and 15 homicides. The Mayor, Henry Espy, was quoted as saying, “A lady calls and says ’I cannot sleep at night.’ I thought that meant I can’t sleep because of gunshots and gang violence and drugs in her area, she said ’I can’t sleep in my bed I have to sleep on the floor because I’m afraid of being killed.’”
Under the leadership of U.S. Attorney Jim Greenlee in the Northern District of Mississippi, and coordination efforts supported by PSN between the community and law enforcement -- crime is now under control. People in this country should be able to sleep in their own beds without fear of being killed. In fact, Clarksdale’s success has become a model for small towns and rural communities on how to succeed in reducing gun crime. Their dramatic results have been captured in a video documentary and have received national recognition.
Of course, money sometimes helps, and through PSN, there is the ever important increase in funding support: The Department of Justice has also committed approximately $2 billion dollars to local, state and federal efforts to fight gun crime and gang violence. This meant more federal, state and local prosecutors, increased training, better research and community outreach support.
Additionally, in nearly all of the Districts, we have evidence that this collaboration and strategic prosecution decision is working. Tougher federal sentences are undoubtedly having an impact on local communities.
There are countless examples, within every district across our country. For example, in the Western District of Washington, a defendant was convicted on two counts of possessing a stolen firearm which cost him 147-months in prison. This investigation began in 2005 when a local police officer noticed an SUV being driven recklessly. A dramatic pursuit ensued, and the defendant was eventually arrested. This violent individual had numerous prior convictions for assault, auto theft, drug crimes, attempted burglary and eluding police. This case exemplifies the breadth and flexibility of PSN: A case starts, simply enough, when an alert police officer notices a vehicle being driven erratically. The case ends, many months later, in a successful federal prosecution and lengthy prison term for a career criminal.
In June, a Project Safe Neighborhoods investigation in the Eastern District of North Carolina resulted in a 180-month sentence for a defendant convicted of robbery and using a firearm while committing a federal crime of violence.
In July, in the Northern District of Indiana, a defendant was sentenced to 78 months in prison following his conviction for being a felon in possession of 21 firearms. This PSN case started back in 2005 when an ATF/High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force went to the defendant’s residence to execute an arrest warrant and discovered the 21 firearms. This particular defendant had four prior felony convictions, including two convictions for child molestation, one conviction for voluntary manslaughter, and one conviction for cocaine possession.
Just last month, a cooperative PSN investigation in the Northern District of Georgia resulted in a 25-year prison term for a defendant convicted of possessing a sawed-off shot-gun, two counts of possessing, manufacturing and transferring pipe bombs, and distribution of methamphetamine.
While long prison sentences for career criminals and violent offenders enhances public safety, it is not just about long prison sentences for that purpose only. It is about improving public safety, and the relationships between police and the communities we serve. It is about quality of life. It is about children dreaming big and small and having the ability to play in our yards, in our parks and in our neighborhoods.
As PSN’s 7th year approaches, it is clear that the initiative is alive and well – and in fact, thriving. Perhaps most importantly, it is EVOLVING. When a national crime-fighting program works, people get excited…they get inspired, they get motivated to do more. They get creative, and are challenged to be more innovative.
For example, the District of Massachusetts has included re-entry efforts as part of their overall PSN strategy. The Boston Re-Entry Initiative (BRI), was created in 2000, and targets so-called “high impact offenders” between the ages of 17 and 30, whose prior criminal behavior involves gang violence. It is a targeted population that is considered to be 100% more likely to re-offend.
Selected inmates are chosen to participate in panels at the jail each month. During the panel, they are informed that law enforcement is aware of their criminal history and apprised of the consequences should they re-offend. Additionally, significant resources and support services are offered upon release. Each are assigned a mentor – either faith-based or community-based – to assist with their discharge plan at the time of release.
Between 2003 and 2005, data showed that there was a significant decrease in recidivism among the participants. Remember, it was expected that these groups would normally have a 100% recidivism rate. According to the data, 43% - have not been re-arrested. Of those who did re-offend, 40.5 % were arrested on non-violence charges. If you do the math, that means that, instead of a 100% violent crime recidivism rate, which was what would normally be expected of this population, the violent crime recidivism rate was only 34% . Still too high, but this has protected hundreds of people from victimization.
Out in the Central District of California, they’re tackling gang problems from a new and innovative angle. They recently used FEDERAL CIVIL RIGHTS STATUTES to obtain convictions against four members of the Avenues Gang. These convictions resulted from racially motivated murders and assaults against African-Americans –African Americans who were not even members of a rival gang, but who had simply taken up residence in territory claimed by the Avenues Gang.
Our partners in the District of Hawaii have taken seven Honolulu Police Department Detectives and designated them as Special Deputy Marshals. The job of these seven marshals is to route as many gun violence cases as they can to the USAO for possible federal prosecution. The results are highly encouraging. This tactic, I am told, has greatly improved the state’s ability to combat violence involving guns.
In the Eastern District of Michigan they are tackling Detroit’s alarming homicide rate head-on through Operation TIDE, an unprecedented program that combines the respective talents of the U.S.Attorney’s Office, ATF, FBI, the U.S.Marshals Service, the Detroit Police Department, the Michigan State Police, the Michigan Department of Corrections and other agencies to identify and prosecute the most violent criminals within the city’s northwest sector.
If THAT is not an example of an outstanding PSN partnership, I don’t know what is.
The District of Vermont, is utilizing PSN funds to support a unique, district-wide program called Project Safe Choice. This program is an excellent example of an effective way to address the prevention strategy of PSN. Project Safe Choice provides services to youngsters with histories of abusive or violent behavior. It also provides training and educational opportunities for schools and community-based organizations that work with young people.
These are just a handful of some of the successful, inspiring and innovative PSN strategies being developed and implemented throughout the United States. There are dozens and dozens more. Each of you are contributing to the important goal of reducing violent crime, community by community.
Even with all of our successes -- improved statistics and the innovative strategies -- there is much more to be done. Although the statistics show violent crime numbers at an all time low, gun related crimes continue to plaque many communities.
The Campaign to Reduce Gun Violence in America has a simple goal: to teach the young, violent offender how to look beyond the moment…To make him think twice before he decides to pull the trigger…To remind them that their actions have long standing effects on others around them. It is a powerful message, one we believe is going to have a positive and powerful impact.
Your service day in and day out, and your presence here today demonstrates your contribution to the mission of PSN, and we thank you for your commitment to the initiative and your commitment to public safety.
During his remarks at the National Sheriffs’ Association Annual Conference, Attorney General Gonzales said it best, “America cannot
Afford to be without the hopes of even a few of its children – we must do what we can to keep every one of them safe and protected.
Every neighborhood deserves to be a safe neighborhood.”
I sincerely hope that you find the conference helpful, and that the information and resources you leave here with will be useful tools in
Fighting gun crime in your communities. The Department of Justice, and ATF are committed to working with each of you, continuing
unprecedented partnerships of all levels of government, and meeting the overall goal of PSN to dramatically reduce gun and gang
violence. I firmly believe that the dedication of everyone in this room will secure the continued success of Projects Safe Neighborhoods
for years to come.
Judging from the level of enthusiasm, creativity and innovation we’re seeing here at the conference, and across the country, it’s safe to say the best is yet to come.
Thank you and be sure to participate, learn, share and enjoy the conference.
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