Federal indictments are up. Gun-related crimes are down. That’s the result of a review of a two-year effort by the Department of Justice and local law enforcement.
The federal program, Project Safe Neighborhoods, was reborn two years ago at the order of then-Attorney General Jeff Session. The program focuses on violent crime and firearms.
Two years later, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California McGregor Scott says annual firearms-related homicides and assaults in the district have decreased by about a quarter compared to the average of the previous 10 years. The number of firearms-related indictments have increased by about a third over that time.
"The people that we take for federal prosecution almost invariably have multiple prior felony convictions, usually crimes of violence,” Scott said. "They may have machine guns. There's something extra ordinary."
He says local agencies ask for assistance to investigate and prosecute those people who have repeatedly broken the law either through violence or crimes involving a gun. “We don't take every single one of these cases. We don't have the resources to handle that," Scott said.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Marshals Service have worked with the U.S. attorney and local law enforcement agencies between Shasta and Bakersfield.
The ATF says agents are seeing more homemade guns and automatic weapon conversion kits made in China.
"It used to be that a Glock pistol was the status symbol. Now I want this with the full auto(matic). This is the cool thing to have,” ATF agent Brian Hester said, while demonstrating how guns without serial numbers and with conversion kits can be assembled. He was one of several agents at an announcement of the program’s success at the Robert T. Matsui federal courthouse in Sacramento.
ATF's San Francisco field office seized more than 250 homemade weapons with no serial numbers this year.
More than 1,600 guns of all types have been seized this year by ATF in the Eastern District.
Firearms are a focus of the program, as are gangs, Scott also pointed out
Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones said his department called for help when gang violence erupted after a year of declining crime.
“We saw three separate gang conflicts all erupt at about the same time. It was actually above and beyond the capacity for the Stockton Police Department even though those officers are very good at what they do,” Jones said. “It was extreme violence that hit all at once.”
Lasha Boyden with the US Marshals Service says about 100 officers were brought together to respond to Jones' request, who made an equal number of arrests of what she describes as “violent gang members” and seized nearly 20 firearms.
Chief Jones says the crime rate following Operation Washout was among the lowest in the last five summers.
U.S. Attorney Scott says the agencies also worked together to build drug trafficking and racketeering cases against the Modesto Hell’s Angels and murder cases against the Aryan Brotherhood.
Scott repeated that the indictments as the result of the project targeted repeat offenders, one of whom had been convicted of domestic violence and drug trafficking before he led police on a high-speed chase and crashed into a residence.
"If you have some guy with eight prior felony convictions and he know til the cows come home that he's not supposed to have a gun and he's got a gun, there have to be consequences,” Scott said.
Scott and the other agents also said the program would not have worked as well as it has without community support and involvement.