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Project Safe Neighborhoods

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

SEN. LARRY CRAIG (R-ID): Well, Mr. Chairman, thank you very much for a hearing on, of course, Project Safe Neighborhoods, and the substantially expanded program that we have under the Bush administration recognizing communities and dealing with the five core elements in the development of the program for partnerships, strategic planning, training and outreach and accountability. And, by evidence, it appears to be working. We know that this is an outgrowth from a project that we got involved in some time ago, and expanded it in what we at that time called Project Exile, and the positive impacts that has on the use of a firearm in the commission of a crime.

So I have no additional statement. I think your opening statement most assuredly is adequate. It is important we hear from these witnesses as we look at what we are currently doing in the two- year program, the amount of money that's been put in to hiring to the training of new federal and state prosecutors in support of investigators, and the promotion of community outreach. So with that, we thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

SEN. CRAIG: Paul, thank you very much. And it has to be pleasing for you to have been there at the beginning and to watch this develop across our country as it gets implemented. Now we look forward to U.S. attorney Todd Graves' testimony, from the western district of Missouri.

Todd.

SEN. CRAIG: Todd, thank you for your time and that testimony. Those are fascinating and very important statistics, I'm sure the folks of Kansas City are appreciating them. Now let us turn to the U.S. attorney Patrick Meehan, eastern district of Pennsylvania.

Welcome before the committee.

SEN. CRAIG: Okay, I understand that that's planned. Before that tape is played, let me recognize two of my colleagues that have joined us that are certainly seasoned prosecutors in their own right as U.S. Senators also. First of all, your senator, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and Senator Jeff Sessions. Would either of you like to make opening comments or comments prior to—we're going to watch a video that Mr. Meehan has brought.

SEN. CRAIG: Well, thank you. That certainly corresponds with much of your testimony this morning. Let me ask some questions of you all. Attorney Warner, what were the challenges that you faced in putting together a state-wide program as opposed to a multiple of efforts addressing, let's say, you know, distinct geographic areas. And how have you been able to coordinate all of the many local law enforcement and communities across Utah?

SEN. CRAIG: With that experience of a state-local-federal cooperation, and of course sharing resources at a time when states are struggling certainly can be helpful. Based on your experience so far, what additional resources or measures would help you or your office in continuing to prosecute aggressively?

SEN. CRAIG: Well, thank you very much.

Paul, as I had mentioned, over the years we've worked together on a variety of projects in law enforcement, especially focusing on crime and the use of a firearm in the commission of that crime. Project Exile, which you referenced, in Richmond was one—is one of the cutting-edge programs designed to tackle gun violence in the eastern district of Virginia, and I understand that you've taken steps and you've explained some of those steps in the expansion of it. Can you describe how you expanded the program, adapted it to meet the community needs throughout the district? You've mentioned some early meetings, coordinative efforts. Can you take us beyond that if you can.

SEN. CRAIG: Well, I thank you for that testimony. I know that early on we began to pay attention to what was going on in Richmond as an opportunity to grow a process that clearly the one we're talking about today is an offshoot of—along with a lot of community efforts across the country and state effort.

Attorney Graves, you had mentioned the whole of your effort accelerated charging of gun crimes and gun possession, a media campaign, your efforts with the Kansas City Crime Commission research conducted by the University of Missouri, Kansas City. Can you describe the importance of your program's relationship to the Kansas City Crime Commission. That sounds like a local-federal partnership that must be working, by the statistics you offer us.

SEN. CRAIG: Well, it must have been making it to their mind and hopefully it will make it to their action. Thank you very much.

Mr. Meehan, you talked about an urban and a rural combining, and of course the urban character of Philadelphia and the size of it creates a certain type of law enforcement complication in itself that I'm probably unaware of to some regard, and certainly my state, a much more rural state. Can you tell us how you got your district attorneys to buy in as it related to the cooperative effort, the training that went on and the commitment to work together on this kind of a program?

SEN. CRAIG: Patrick, we have raised concern about Project Safe Neighborhoods by suggesting that the program concentrates only on law enforcement of violation of section 922(g), possession of firearms by prohibited persons, and sections 924©, use, carrying and possession of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime. What response do you have to those criticisms?

SEN. CRAIG: If you would, surely. Now that you have the mike, let me ask another question that I'd like to have you dovetail into your comments on this particular question. And that is that some have suggested that the decline of homicides and violent crime in Richmond were not due to Project Exile but would have occurred without Project Exile. So I think you're aware of some of those claims. Combine that with the use of these particular areas of the criminal code and how you've dealt with them.

SEN. CRAIG: Well, gentlemen, thank you all very much for your time and your testimony and the efforts that you have underway in your states in relation to PSN. The coordinated efforts especially and the resources that we're putting behind them now, and I'm confident we'll continue to put behind them are valuable. The statistics are mounting up and criminals are beginning to recognize that the streets are not necessarily a safe place for them. And that's what this is all about, so thank you all very much.

WITNESSES: Thank you, Senator.

SEN. CRAIG: We have a second panel, and I'll ask that panel to come forward please. I'm going to put the committee in recess for just a moment and step away, just one moment, and I'll be right back.

(Recess.)

The committee will come back to order, and I would ask our next panel to be seated please. Again, the committee wants to thank you for your time and effort to be here, and to offer testimony as we build a record on this program and better understand how it's working across our country. First on our panel today is Russell Edward Spann, is that the correct pronunciation? A captain with the West Valley Police Department in Utah. He is an important partner in Utah's coordinated effort, he supports Project Safe Neighborhoods as our testimony says because it allows them to go after repeat offenders and lock them away.

Captain, we look forward to your testimony, please proceed.

SEN. CRAIG: Professor Ludwig, thank you. And thank you for that interesting and challenging perspective. We'll pursue it in a moment. Let me start back down to our panelists with a couple of questions. When Senator Sessions joins me I'll turn to him, he has to be on—and we want to also try to wrap this up during that—at least in that timeframe.

Captain, in your testimony you cited an unprecedented level of cooperation amongst federal and local law enforcement agencies in Utah. We have heard frequently the difficulty of coordination, often times of rivalries between different levels of law enforcement in our country. How were you and other law enforcement agencies able to accomplish the coordination you've referenced?

SEN. CRAIG: Well, I hadn't thought of that but I was certainly aware of law enforcement communities of Idaho participating with Utah and some of the coordinated efforts that were underway for the Olympics. It was obviously a very high profile Olympics in a post 9/11 environment. So that makes some additional sense, certainly.

MR. SPANN: Okay.

SEN. CRAIG: Thank you.

Chief, your testimony references me to an obvious frustration you had on the streets of Newport News and the inability to get things done, and now you sense that things are happening. And I'm saying this in reference to what Professor Ludwig said about—I'm a little frustrated about rounding them up but not locking them up or prosecuting them or carrying it through. Part of the frustration I've always heard from the law enforcement community is that revolving door out there of putting violence back on the street and ultimately having to take it off again.

What I'm hearing from you I think, and you mentioned it and the work that's getting done and the ability to move ahead with a higher level of extraction, if you will, from the streets of violent criminals in your experience under this program. Could you reference that a little more and possibly explain what you meant about the uniqueness that this is offering you and the taskforces involved?

SEN. CRAIG: That's interesting testimony, dovetailed with what you have mentioned, Mr. Totaro. You pointed out I think in your testimony the inadequacy of state sentencing provisions. Hence in the past many felons considered a few months in prison simply a cost of doing business. That's a phenomenal statement, but I suspect for those who are in the business that's a reality at least to their observation or lifestyle. I know you touched on in your testimony, but I'd like you to describe in detail whether felons are becoming aware of the consequence of carrying a firearm under what's now going on in Pennsylvania and in light of this cooperative effort and sentencing through federal law versus state.

SEN. CRAIG: Well, thank you for your commitment, involvement and the raw experience. You have the kind of experience out there in the application of these laws that few of us have, and that's appreciated on this committee.

Obviously, Mr. Curtis, advertising pays, or at least an informational flow going out to the elements of our community that might be most reactive to it. And it sounds like it's paying off in Kansas City. Let me ask this question of the rest of you. We have Pennsylvania, Virginia and Utah. Have you utilized television? Have you been able to actually advertise in the utilization of television to communicate a similar kind of message to that that they did in the state of Kansas in the Kansas City area?

SEN. CRAIG: Excellent.

Professor Ludwig, I am curious of some of your observations and I'm going to go—I hope we have available some of your studies, I'm curious to read some of your findings or your observations in relation to it Project Exile and your reaction to it. Let me ask this question of you. I make the general assumption that when there is a spike in crime that there is a public reaction to that, and therefore a reaction in the law enforcement community usually follows.

And so as that occurs, while Project Exile and used in the Richmond area and you mentioned other areas had crime and it declined, my guess is—and I may guess wrong, you can respond because you've studied it. There were other kinds of efforts underway in response to that spike in crime. If that is true, was there an effort to evaluate the pieces of the process? Here we had in Richmond the use of the federal firearms laws, the sorting out if you will and trying to identify with those individual actions that could be taken into federal court versus state court, the frustration we've heard because Newport News is down the road a bit and is subject to the same laws at least from a state level.

In your examination and studies, was there a comparative attempted to draw between what was used and implemented or are you suggesting this was simply a cultural phenomena that occurred, a spike and a decline?

SEN. CRAIG: In your observation of what is now underway across the country with the community effort and the diversity within it and the resources being applied, do you believe, based on your experience and your studies, that this is an effective use of public resource?

SEN. CRAIG: I'm a bit confused by that answer, because I understand what you're saying, I understand the premise of what you're saying, but how do you keep them off the street? Once you've taken them off the street, one of the great problems we have is this, if you will, professional seasoned hardened criminal who accelerates his or her action to a point of using a firearm in the commission of a crime, ultimately killing someone, and of course, then a felon and that revolving door of state versus federal use or application of the law and the severity of the penalty. Visit with me a bit about that.

SEN. CRAIG: Well, okay, that's an interesting statistic and observation. My guess is, and I don't have time to pursue this further today, that there are some out here and some who have been on the panel who will disagree with that observation. Time is going to tell because there are very aggressive efforts underway across this country now with this program. And I think I agree with you, Professor, the opportunity to observe, to look at where we're headed and its impact over an extended period of time is probably more likely today than it has been in the past. So we'll probably have you back in times to come to draw greater conclusions from a greater and more extended body of information as we proceed down this path.

Gentlemen, thank you very much for your time before the committee and the testimony you've offered today. Let me also ask unanimous consent that the testimony or statements of the ranking member, Senator Pat Leahy, become a part of our committee record along with Senator—another member of the committee, Senator Joe Biden. So they will become a full part of the committee, and with that, the committee will stand adjourned. Again, thank you all very much.

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