To the handful of offenders driving most of Greenwood’s gun-related crimes, state and federal prosecutors came together Thursday to send a singular message: “We’re coming after you.”
First Assistant U.S. Attorney Lance Crick said those works, echoing U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s words from a speech Wednesday where he announced a new, coordinated effort to prosecute firearm offenders. Thursday at the Greenwood County Courthouse, Crick and Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin Holloway joined 8th Circuit Solicitor David Stumbo and officials from Greenwood County and City governments and law enforcement to announce a local effort to crack down on top-tier firearm offenders.
This coordinated effort is being called Project Safe Neighborhoods.
“This is a big deal for the city and county of Greenwood. We have faced, in the past several years, a plague, quite honestly, of gun violence,” Stumbo said at Thursday’s press conference.
Anywhere from 80-90% of violent crimes are perpetrated by about 5-7% of offenders, a small slice of the already limited pool of lawbreakers, Crick said. Prosecutors want to send a strong message to these few violent offenders by taking them to task in court.
“On the federal side, our effort begins with providing training on using objective data to identify and investigate the most violent offenders,” he said.
Federal prosecutors will meet weekly with local officials to share and analyze data and create a strategy for prosecuting violent crimes.
“Sometimes the federal statutes allow for a better result,” Crick said. “Sometimes it’s going to make more sense for the solicitor’s office to prosecute the case.”
On the local end, the 8th Circuit Solicitor’s office has committed to having a prosecutor at bond hearings for top offenders, and to revoke bond when someone who has been bonded out of jail re-offends. Some gun charges, Stumbo said, will even be prosecuted on specific “gun court” days — days where prosecutors line up a docket entirely of firearm-related charges, to hammer home the point that these offenses will not be taken lightly.
Another critical tool in this fight, Holloway said, is NIBIN, or the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network. This shared database allows investigators from any agency to upload information about bullet casings found in a drive-by shooting, for instance, and the network tracks specific markings that will help identify if the same gun has fired the same bullets in any other tracked case. Holloway called it “DNA for ballistics.”
“This is where the rubber meets the road,” Stumbo said. “A lot of times our city and county officers show up on the scene of a shooting and all they have is a pile of shell casings.”
With enough data entered, NIBIN could help officers find leads in cases even if they have gone cold. Sheriff Dennis Kelly said investigators have been hard at work to crack such cases and pursue these offenders, but that a greater sense of cooperation is eagerly welcomed. Police Chief Gerald Brooks shared a similar sentiment.
“I’ve always believed cooperation is the backbone of law enforcement,” Brooks said. “This is an excellent example. The agencies involved in this endeavor are all setting aside their egos and any jealousy or thoughts of competition over turf to make sure that we are serving our citizens to the best of our ability.”
County Council Vice Chairman Chuck Moates referred to the fatal school shooting in California that happened Thursday, saying it only underscores the need for efforts such as these nationwide. Councilwoman Edith Childs, who headed a number of community meetings aimed at brainstorming solutions for gun violence in Greenwood, said she’s wanted to see a joint effort like this for a while.
“I think it’s wonderful that everyone is coming together, and I hope we can stop or eliminate the shootings happening here in Greenwood,” she said.