Monday, March 18, 2019

Project Safe Neighborhoods Efforts Spur Record Breaking Number of Federal Gun Prosecutions and Significant Violent Crime Reductions in Huntington

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – United States Attorney Mike Stuart announced a record-breaking number of federal gun prosecutions in 2018 as part of on-going Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) efforts to reduce violent crime in Huntington.  In early 2018, soon after taking office, Stuart joined forces with the Huntington Police Department, City of Huntington officials and federal, state and local law enforcement partners to launch Project Huntington to identify and prosecute the most violent offenders.  The focused collaboration has met with staggering results.

The City of Huntington saw a dramatic decline in violent crime in 2018, reversing the sharp rise in violent crime that occurred in the City in 2017.  Homicides dropped by 53% in the city and overall violent crime offenses dropped approximately 20% in calendar year 2018.

The Operation Saigon Sunset takedown in April 2018 was a seminal event that delivered a knockout blow to the City’s violent crime.  The OCDETF investigation culminated into a massive takedown of violent drug offenders, dismantling a multi-state drug trafficking organization responsible for bringing a significant amount of fentanyl, heroin and violence into Huntington.  In conjunction with the takedown, approximately 60 other individuals were arrested on various federal and state violent crime, firearms and drug related charges.  Just as violent crime numbers began trending downward post takedown, first responders report that overdoses in the city, which had previously been some of the highest in the state, began trending downward as well.  Treatment professionals also report an increase in substance use disorder treatment referrals following the April takedown.

The year also brought a record number of new prosecutors to the Stuart’s office, four of which were specifically allocated to prosecute violent crimes.  In the last year, Stuart has more than doubled the number of federal prosecutors assigned to his office in Huntington.   With the additional resources, the U.S. Attorney’s Office-SDWV prosecuted over 100 defendants for firearms-related offenses in calendar year 2018.   In FY 2018, there was a 25% increase in the number of defendants charged with firearms offenses in the District, further representing a 74% increase from the average number of defendants prosecuted in FY 2014 through 2017.

“When I became United States Attorney, the City of Huntington was under siege,” said United States Attorney Mike Stuart.  “From the day I took the oath of office, I made the City of Huntington one of my priorities and vowed to work with all our partners to take the streets back from the diabolical drug dealers and drug thugs who have caused destruction, death and despair.  While we have made tremendous progress over the last year, you won’t find us resting on our laurels.  There is still much work left to do.”

“The Huntington Police Department's PSN-based Violent Crime Initiative allows for the rapid investigation, timely apprehension and thorough prosecution of criminals before they can become violent offenders in our City,” said Huntington Police Chief Hank Dial.  “Our partnership with the DEA, the ATF, the U.S. Marshals Service and U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart's Office has greatly enhanced our local efforts to reduce violent crime in Huntington.  PSN is an essential program to our effort of keeping the citizens of our country safe.”

“ATF strives to be ‘no better partner’ to other law enforcement agencies,” stated ATF Special Agent in Charge Stuart Lowrey of the Louisville Field Division.  “During the past year, this partnership investigated illegal sources of crime guns and persons who illegally possessed or used guns to commit violent crimes in the Huntington area.  Together, we aggressively pursued ‘traffickers and trigger pullers,’ making use of crime gun intelligence to disrupt the shooting cycle.  These efforts support the Department of Justice’s Project Safe Neighborhoods in making our communities safer for everyone.”

“The success of the Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative is a testament to the hard work and dedication of all the law enforcement professionals in the region working in a truly collaborative fashion,” said D. Christopher Evans, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Special Agent in Charge for West Virginia.  "We could not ask for a better group of professionals to work with toward the shared goal of reducing violent crime in Huntington and the surrounding communities.”

“This is a coordinated effort, which calls upon all levels of law enforcement to combine forces to stop gun violence and drug-fueled crimes in our neighborhoods, and to increase community safety,” said Special Agent in Charge Robert Jones. “The residents of Huntington have been dealing with the drugs and violence for far too long. We will continue to use all of our tools available to make sure people who bring violence to these streets are punished to the fullest extent of the law.”

Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) is the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts.  PSN is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime. Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them. As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime.

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