WASHINGTON — LAWFUEL – The Law Newswire – Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales today, speaking before employees at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), unveiled new cities designated for targeted federal violent crime task forces and announced new comprehensive legislation that strengthens federal laws targeting violent criminals as part of the Department’s expanding efforts to fight violent crime.
“Keeping America’s neighborhoods safe is one of the central functions of government at all levels,” said Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. “Today’s new task forces are a part of our expanded efforts and commitment by the Department of Justice to support state and local law enforcement in the fight against violent crime. The legislation we have proposed today will make it easier for federal investigators and prosecutors to take dangerous criminals off the streets and put them behind bars for longer.”
New Cities Designated for Violent Crime Task Forces
Today’s announcement expands the Violent Crime Impact Team (VCIT) initiative to an additional four cities, including Mesa, Ariz.; Orlando, Fla.; San Bernardino, Calif.; and San Juan, Puerto Rico, bringing to 29 the total number of cities where the successful program has helped combat violent crime.
The VCIT initiative uses innovative technology, analytical investigative resources and an integrated federal, state and local law enforcement strategy to identify, disrupt, arrest and prosecute the most violent criminals in select cities across the nation. Modeled after Project Safe Neighborhoods’ (PSN) successes, the VCIT initiative’s primary goal is to reduce the number of homicides and other violent crimes committed with firearms in targeted communities throughout the country. Since its launch in 2004, VCIT partners have arrested more than 9,800 gang members, drug dealers, felons in possession of firearms, and other violent criminals, including 1,650 identified as “worst of the worst” criminals, and recovered more than 11,100 firearms.
“ATF looks forward to taking the success we and our partners have achieved to these additional VCIT cities,” said ATF Acting Director Michael J. Sullivan. “This is a program that works and brings the best resources of federal, state and local law enforcement to bear on violent crime.”
Attorney General Gonzales today also announced the expansion of the FBI’s Safe Streets Task Force program to include Orlando, Fla. The FBI has more than 180 Safe Street Task Forces nationwide that focus on gangs and violent crime. The task forces are comprised of local, state, and federal investigators representing more than 500 law enforcement agencies throughout the United States. By targeting and dismantling violent organized gangs that wreak havoc in cities and towns across the country, as well as investigating violent criminals involved in federal robberies, carjackings, murders and kidnappings, FBI’s Safe Streets Task Forces are helping keep America’s cities and neighborhoods safe.
“Fighting violent crime is deeply rooted in the FBI’s nearly 100-year history,” stated Assistant Director Kenneth W. Kaiser of the FBI Criminal Investigative Division. “Key to success is the FBI’s formula for combating violent crime and gang activity, which includes leveraging our law enforcement partners, sharing intelligence, and preparing investigations for prosecution. The FBI is pleased to announce the establishment of its most recent Safe Streets Task Force in Orlando, adding to the more than 180 Task Forces engaged in disrupting violent crime and dismantling gangs nationwide.”
New Legislation to More Effectively Fight Violent Crime
As part of today’s announcement, the Department of Justice proposed the Violent Crime and Anti-Terrorism Act of 2007, a comprehensive package including violent crime legislation that amends and strengthens existing laws to ensure that federal law enforcement agencies are able to successfully investigate and prosecute many types of violent crime. The proposed bill will improve existing criminal laws to close gaps and strengthen penalties, provide greater flexibility in the penalties that could be imposed on federal firearms licensees who violate the Gun Control Act, and restore the binding nature of sentencing guidelines. The bill also includes provisions that strengthen laws pertaining to drug enforcement, terrorism and child pornography.
Improving Violent Crime Prevention and Strengthening Anti-Gang Measures:
The proposed bill amends several criminal statutes to close gaps and strengthen penalties and existing tools used to combat violent crime, including firearms and gang violence. Specifically, these provisions:
Strengthen the statutory prohibition on illegal firearm transfers by doubling the maximum penalty for transferring a firearm that will be used to commit a crime of violence or drug trafficking offense;
Increase the maximum penalty for the general federal criminal conspiracy statute, making the conspiracy statute more useful in prosecuting conspiracies to commit offenses, such as firearms offenses, and bringing the maximum penalty for conspiracy in line with the sentencing guidelines;
Amend the armed career criminal statute to create a tiered penalty approach for felons with prior drug trafficking or violent felony convictions;
Extend the statute of limitations for violent crimes and for terrorism-related crimes to 10 years—from five years for violent crimes and eight years for terrorism-related crimes; and
Create a new statutory prohibition against crimes of violence by illegal aliens.
Flexible Penalties for Firearms Dealers’ Violations of the Gun Control Act:
The proposed bill provides additional flexibility in the penalties that can be imposed on federal firearms licensees (FFLs) that violate the Gun Control Act. Specifically, the bill will:
Establish additional, graduated sanctions for certain violations of the federal firearms laws, including suspension of federal firearms licenses and imposing civil monetary penalties. Such lesser sanctions will enable ATF to more effectively address violations of the Gun Control Act and provide greater incentives for licensees to comply with the law.
Restore Binding Nature of Sentencing Guidelines:
For every federal crime, the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines provide a range of punishments in which a criminal convict’s sentence should fall. In U.S. v. Booker, the Supreme Court held that the Sentencing Guidelines are advisory, freeing federal courts to go below the guidelines range when they deem it reasonable to do so in specific cases. The proposed Sentencing Reform Act will:
Restore the binding nature of the guidelines by making the bottom of the guideline range for each offense a minimum sentence that must be imposed when the elements of the offense are proven; and
Provide rights of appeal to both the United States and the defendant to challenge the sentencing determinations made by the district court.
Other Important Provisions:
In addition to helping law enforcement combat violent crime, the proposed legislation also amends and strengthens laws targeting terrorists, sexual predators, and drug traffickers. Specifically, these provisions will:
Strengthen laws against sexual predators by establishing a minimum sentence of two years for possessing child pornography;
Provide technical improvements to the federal narcotics laws;
Clarify the process for obtaining cell phone location orders in the context of an investigation;
Amend terrorism-related authorities to close gaps in the law; and
Provide additional resources and strengthen existing tools for law enforcement to combat terrorism.
Today’s announcement comes two weeks after Attorney General Gonzales unveiled the framework for a new violent crime strategy to assist federal, state and local law enforcement in combating violent crime. The new strategy was developed after the Attorney General launched the Initiative for Safer Communities to investigate the increase of certain types of violent crime in 2005 and to devise solutions to help communities struggling with violent crime. The strategy calls for additional prosecutors, new training, more funds, enhanced prevention efforts and a crackdown against America’s most violent offenders. The new efforts announced today supplement the work of federal, state and local law enforcement already combating violent crime through this strategy.
In addition to the programs mentioned in today’s announcement, the Department of Justice continues to provide assistance to state and local law enforcement through existing efforts, such as the FBI’s National Gang Intelligence Center, the U.S. Marshals Service’s (USMS) Regional Fugitive Task Forces and district fugitive task forces, the Criminal Division-led National Gang Targeting, Enforcement & Coordination Center (GangTECC), Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), and the anti-gang strategies that are already in place in each judicial district across the country.