ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL DEBORAH J. DANIELS REMARKS

OFFICE OF JUSTICE PROGRAMS

AT THE

USAO MD-GA PRESS CONFERENCE

JULY 1, 2003



I’m delighted to have this opportunity to thank in person U.S. Attorney Max Wood and the members of the Project Safe Neighborhoods Task Force for the work you’re doing here in the Middle District of Georgia to reduce gun violence and increase the safety of the Macon area residents.

At the Office of Justice Programs, we’re proud to be a partner with you in this major Presidential and Attorney General initiative and to be able to provide significant financial and program support for this innovative approach to reducing gun crime.

In this time of national crisis, when our federal government resources must be concentrated to the maximum degree possible on the nation’s fight against terrorism, President Bush and Attorney General Ashcroft have nevertheless committed more than $900 million over three years to Project Safe Neighborhoods to combat gun violence on our streets and in our neighborhoods.

They have done so because they fully recognize the significant threat posed to our citizens by violent predators. And they know that PSN’s aggressive, broad-based response by law enforcement, in partnership with the community at large, can significantly reduce that threat.

After all, as Deputy Attorney General, Larry Thompson – a citizen of the great State of Georgia – has said: . “At the Department of Justice, we recognize that, in waging our nation’s war on terrorism, we must not retreat in our war on crime. We must strike a balance between national security and neighborhood safety. We must find ways to maximize our resources so that we can continue to make advances on both fronts.”

Just as critical as the protection of our borders from terrorist incursion is the protection of our citizens from violence on their streets and in their neighborhoods.

Funds from the Office of Justice Programs provide an important resource to Project Safe Neighborhoods efforts at the state and local levels. Here in the Middle District of Georgia, we’ve awarded over $700,000 in grants to support your gun violence reduction initiatives..This $700,000 total also includes over $470,000 we awarded to Houston County, Dougherty County, and two other Middle District jurisdictions to hire gun prosecutors and increase prosecutions of gun crime cases.

These grants are part of the $63 million we awarded throughout the country under our Community Gun Violence Prosecution Program. All together, these funds have helped state and local governments hire nearly 540 new gun prosecutors nationwide in areas with a high incidence of gun violence.

These new state and local prosecutors join 113 new Assistant United States Attorneys – including Scott Winne on your Project Safe Neighborhoods Task Force – who are working throughout the country to vigorously enforce gun statutes and to bring to justice offenders who use firearms in the commission of a crime. I understand that Scott is a great addition to the PSN Team which is so ably led by Michael Solis.

The Office of Justice Programs also is helping to implement the very critical community outreach aspect of the Project Safe Neighborhood strategy. We awarded a total of $16 million to local partners in each of the 94 districts to implement the media outreach and community engagement component of the strategy.

This includes $170,000 to Macon Regional Crime Stoppers. And I’m very pleased to be here today to support this effort and its important prevention message. The billboards we’re unveiling today will reinforce that message by encouraging citizens to work with law enforcement to reduce gun violence, by promoting gun safety, and by sending criminals the message that they will do “Hard Time for Gun Crime” here in Georgia.

As gun violence reduction efforts have developed in various parts of the country over time, we have learned that one of the most critical elements in tipping the balance away from violence is the message. Criminals have to know that there’s a significant risk involved in using a gun to commit a crime.

Another critical component of the Project Safe Neighborhoods strategy is evaluation. Because we recognize the need for government to be fully accountable to the taxpayers for the way we make use of their dollars, it’s imperative that we measure the actual outcome of our efforts. So we also awarded grants to help each of the 94 federal districts evaluate the effectiveness of the strategy they’ve developed.

To support strategic planning and accountability, we awarded a total of $15 million to develop local research partnerships in each federal district. Here in the Middle District, Georgia College and State University received $150,000 to serve as the Project Safe Neighborhoods research partner. It’s important to note that we no longer think it’s good enough to just tally numbers of arrests and prosecutions, though that is important and leads to crime reduction.

This research effort is geared toward figuring out what approaches to gun violence actually work to reduce violent crime, and make our communities safer; to develop strategies based on this research; and then to measure whether our efforts had an effect on the amount of gun violence occurring in the community.

In addition to these crime reduction efforts, we’re also working to implement Project ChildSafe, which will provide millions of free gun locks to families throughout the country with the help of the National Shooting Sports Foundation. . We estimate that, under Project ChildSafe, we’ll distribute between 18 and 20 million locks in the first year alone. Those locks mean that almost 20 million children can be protected from the harm caused by their accidental discharge of a gun.

As the Attorney General reported at the National Project Safe Neighborhoods Conference in Philadelphia in January, the efforts of the Middle District of Georgia and other jurisdictions throughout the country are paying off. Since this Administration implemented Project Safe Neighborhoods:
– Federal gun crime prosecutions have increased by 32%.
– In 2002 alone, federal gun crime prosecutions increased by 20.2 percent – the highest increase since the Justice Department began recording this information in 1990.
– And Macon’s own increase was an impressive 234%, part of a District-wide increase of 128%.. – Also in 2002, more than 10,000 defendants were charged in the federal system for violating gun statutes – the most ever prosecuted in a single year.
– And so far, almost 8,000 criminals with guns have been convicted.

In fact, the conviction rate for federal gun crime prosecutions was nearly 90 percent last year. And more than half of these gun criminals were sentenced to more than five years in a federal prison. 71 percent of sentences were more than three years. Here in the Middle District of Georgia, you are seeing an average sentence of nearly 8 years.

These numbers are truly impressive. And I know that your prosecutions here in the Middle District of Georgia have contributed to this success.

But as the Attorney General also pointed out, “these are not mere paper statistics.” These numbers translate into armed criminals who are off the streets. They mean fewer victims and safer communities. They mean that PSN is working.

For example, Philadelphia saw a significant reduction in armed robberies – over a 10% reduction – after implementing their Project Safe Neighborhoods strategy. Boston’s Project Ceasefire saw a 63% monthly reduction in youth homicide and a 25% reduction in gun assaults at all ages. And a study conducted in New York City by our National Institute of Justice found that, with the likelihood of prosecution and imprisonment for carrying a weapon increasing, cocaine dealers are choosing to go unarmed, preferring the risk of being robbed to the risk of being caught with a gun. As a result, law-abiding citizens in our communities are safer.

I want to thank you again for all you are doing here in the Middle District to contribute to the success of Project Safe Neighborhoods. I look forward to continuing to work with you on this national initiative, to increase the safety of Georgia’s citizens.