Over the past decade, the city of Richmond has shown remarkable progress. Continually ranked as one of the Top 50 places in America to both live and to start a business, Richmond remains a city on the rise. From sustained economic growth, to a thriving business community, to bold innovative plans for future development, the citizens of Richmond have many reasons for optimism.
In terms of public safety, the city has also seen significant improvement. With a first-rate police department, a highly effective local prosecutor’s office and committed federal partners, Richmond has achieved substantial gains in fighting crime. Despite the recent loss of two tremendous leaders — Police Chief Alfred Durham and Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring — I am confident the Richmond law enforcement community will only build upon their many successes.
Notwithstanding this enthusiasm on public safety issues, however, is a need for improvement in the area of gun violence. As seen throughout this summer, violent criminals still carry firearms and commit aggravated assaults and homicides in spite of dedicated law enforcement efforts. From retaliatory gang warfare, to drug related murders, to isolated domestic violence incidents, we must find a way to not only prosecute individuals for their deadly actions but also prevent them from engaging in violence in the first place.
As the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, I am responsible for working with and coordinating our local, state and federal partners to address this escalation of violence. Unlike past federal programs that measured success by the number of arrests or indictments, the better response is to strategically use our resources to focus on actually reducing violent crime.
Under the umbrella of Project Safe Neighborhoods, a nationwide Department of Justice anti-violence campaign, I have supported my office’s efforts in creating the Richmond Violent Crime Initiative (VCI) — a task force made up of federal agents and prosecutors whose sole goal is to reduce violent crime in selected areas within the Richmond community.
By using all the tools available under federal law, VCI member agencies from the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Drug Enforcement Administration and Homeland Security Investigations have initiated aggressive investigations into known violent criminals in the geographic areas that have suffered the most.
These efforts have led to dozens of federal prosecutions of violent offenders for illegal firearm possession, distribution of controlled substances, carjacking and robbery over the past year. By using an “all hands on deck” approach with our federal partners, this combination of resources has led to many more violent criminals being taken off the streets of Richmond.
Another unique aspect of the VCI is our partnership with local and state law enforcement. Relying on crime statistics and street-level intelligence provided by knowledgeable police officers and detectives, the VCI has been more efficient in determining where to concentrate federal resources.
Meeting at least once a month to review violent crime trends in the city, VCI member agencies and local stakeholders strategize on ways to better protect the public. With this free exchange of information, I am confident that your federal law enforcement agencies are conducting investigations and prosecutions that make a meaningful impact on the community.
One key component of the VCI, which prosecutors had largely overlooked in combating violent crime in the past, is prevention. By discouraging violence through greater federal presence in historically violent neighborhoods, engaging with gang members who may commit retaliatory violence and increasing prosecution of “straw purchasers” and illegal firearm possessors, our efforts at deterrence have proved fruitful. Although it is difficult to predict who will engage in future violence and difficult to measure the number of crimes prevented, early intervention is a necessary element to any anti-violent crime effort.
By sharpening our focus, relying on street-level intelligence and using preventive measures to combat violent crime under the VCI, and with the support of local law enforcement and the community, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our federal partners feel confident we have a successful strategy to positively impact violent crime. And we remain optimistic that we can have a significant impact on violent crime in Richmond.