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Senators Focus on Preventing Youth and Gang Violence

Location: Philadelphia, PA

Senators Focus on Preventing Youth and Gang Violence

In an effort to deter kids from a life of crime and strengthen programs aimed at preventing youth and gang violence in cities across America, U.S. Senators Joe Biden (D-DE) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) today held a field hearing in Philadelphia on "Preventing Youth and Gang Violence." During the Judiciary Committee hearing, Biden called for a renewed federal commitment to prevention programs that help keep at-risk kids away from violence. He also called on the Bush Administration to restore funding to federal programs that help cities and towns with gang and violence reduction efforts.

"There appears to be an epidemic of youth and gang violence in our communities and across the country," said Biden, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime. "Yet the Bush Administration proposes more than a two-thirds cut in juvenile justice and prevention funding since 2002. While money can't solve every problem, there are very few problems in law enforcement which can be solved without funding. The federal government needs to recommit itself to helping local communities prevent juvenile violence."

Illustrating the drop-off in funding from the Bush Administration, Biden noted that this year's Safe Streets' operation in Wilmington has only half the funding it had in 1997 to address a near-identical spike in violent shootings; and next year it is slated to have no resources.

There were 97 shootings in 2004 in Wilmington, resulting in 17 deaths. That figure is only 11 shootings shy of the record 108 shootings in 1996. Testifying at the hearing, Jim Kane, Executive Director of the Delaware Criminal Justice Council, told the committee that the majority of those involved in Wilmington's shootings are drug dealers killing each other. The resulting violence has made communities less safe and claimed the lives of too many innocent victims, including 19-year old Charles Morris, who was gunned down on a Wilmington street corner last year on his way to pick up Chinese food for his girlfriend.

"Though all violence is tragic, there is no worse crime than crimes against children and young men and women," said Biden. "It chops away at the roots of the tree. It takes away the future of a community. It steals a generation. It breaks the line of family. We must break the cycle of violence before it steals any more of our sons and daughters."

Earlier this year Senator Biden obtained a commitment from FBI Director Robert Mueller to increase the FBI's strength in Delaware by adding one permanent agent specifically assigned to the state. The addition of this agent will allow for the creation of two separate FBI agent squads, with one team focusing solely on terrorism and the other concentrating on traditional crime fighting initiatives including crimes associated with the use of illegal guns and drugs in Wilmington.

Senator Biden also coordinated with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to establish a "Drug Homicide Task Force," comprised of two DEA Special Agents and two deputized Wilmington Police detectives, to perform in-depth investigations of all shootings for connections to long-term drug investigations and violent drug trafficking organizations. This task force will work solely on investigations originating from the Wilmington area to eliminate sources that supply local drug dealers.

"I commend Chairman Specter for holding this hearing," concluded Biden. "I truly hope this committee can help put us back on track in stopping juvenile violence before it occurs."

Also attending the field hearing at Philadelphia's National Constitution Center were U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Rick Santorum (R-PA).

Senator Specter, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, and Senator Biden, who is a senior member of the committee, plan to hold additional hearings on youth violence in Washington, DC in the near future.

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