Magazine article The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin

Project Exile: Combating Gun Violence in America

Magazine article The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin

Project Exile: Combating Gun Violence in America

Article excerpt

Gun violence presents a myriad of dangers to large cities, suburbs, small towns, and rural areas throughout the United States. Consequently, officials at the local, state, and federal levels of law enforcement have developed a multitude of programs aimed at reducing gun violence. For example, some programs have included an increased police presence in high-crime areas, gun buyback programs, task forces devoted solely to violent crimes, and, in some instances, lawsuits against firearm manufacturers. Several of these programs have proven moderately successful, as evidenced by a reduction in the overall crime rate in many regions of the United States. (1) Despite the apparent success of such programs, many cities experienced little or no reduction in gun-related crime. In fact, Richmond, Virginia, incurred significant increases in gun-related violence and crime and sought to implement an alternative strategy in the fight to eradicate gun-related crime and violence.

In 1996, gun-related crime was certainly not a new phenomenon to the city of Richmond. The community suffered from annually escalating rates of homicide and gun violence since the 1980s, with such crime rates reaching nearly epidemic proportions in the latter half of the 1990s. In 1996, 140 murders occurred within the Richmond city limits, 122 of which were committed with a firearm. In 1996, someone was shot or killed in the city approximately every 40 to 45 hours, bringing Richmond to the second highest per capita murder rate in the United States that year. (2)

Richmond officials developed and implemented numerous aggressive and innovative initiatives aimed toward combating handgun violence and homicides. One in particular, Project Exile, has proven advantageous for the city.

BACKGROUND

In February 1997, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Richmond unveiled Project Exile--an innovative, expeditious, and aggressive interagency approach to combat gun violence. Rather than creating and enforcing new laws, this program takes advantage of existing federal laws and prosecutes suspects in federal courts, which can prove advantageous because federal courts can apply more stringent bond rules and sentencing guidelines than state courts.

Since the inception of Project Exile, Richmond has seen more than 600 arrests, more than 650 guns seized, and more than 300 armed felons incarcerated as a direct result of the program. (3) An aggressive prosecutive effort has led to an 86 percent conviction rate through trials and plea bargains and to an average prison term of 56 months. (4) Richmond had 72 homicides in 1999--22 fewer than in 1998, a reduction in rate comparable to that of the early 1980s. (5)

Richmond's Project Exile derives its name from the concept that any criminals found in possession of a gun, or convicted of using a gun in the commission of a crime, forfeit their right to remain in the community, thereby exiled from the area. (6) Any criminal found violating the laws applicable to Project Exile faces immediate federal prosecution and conviction, resulting in a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years. This zero tolerance policy allows the U.S. Attorney's Office to prosecute, in federal court, all felons with guns, as well as anyone using guns in drug trafficking, possessing prohibited weapons (e.g., sawed-off shotguns), or using a gun in domestic violence cases.

PROGRAM STRUCTURE

Researchers examined the organization of such aggressive and innovative interagency enforcement programs as Project Exile. (7) They found many similar structural elements among the programs recently implemented or under development.

Targeted Offenders

A broad base of crimes and criminals fall within the legal parameters of Project Exile and similar programs, and jurisdiction is not limited to those cases involving guns and drugs, convicted felons, or individuals with a misdemeanor conviction for domestic violence. …

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