RALEIGH (STL.News) The Department of Justice has recognized the Take Back North Carolina initiative of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina with its Outstanding Overall Partnership/Task Force Award in support of the Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) Initiative.
“We are extremely gratified and humbled by the Attorney General’s recognition of the important work being done by federal, state and local law enforcement, our partners in the District Attorneys’ Offices and by the men and women of my office as we seek to drive down crime rates and deliver safer communities to all the citizens of the Eastern District.” Robert J. Higdon, Jr., United States Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina said. “When I took office as the United States Attorney, the President and the Attorney General made it clear that job one in our District was to reduce crime rates and to attack drug trafficking organizations operating here. We have taken that task very seriously and, because of the hard work of so many, we have seen those crime rates decline as we have removed the drivers of those crime rates from our cities and towns. This award honors a sustained effort by many, many dedicated public servants and it is a privilege to accept this award on their behalf.”
In early 2018, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina launched Take Back North Carolina in an effort to drive down spiraling crime rates and to attack drug trafficking organizations – specifically violent crime and drug activities caused by gangs and other national and transnational organizations. Through the initiative, teams of Assistant United States Attorneys and legal support staff were deployed across the 44 counties of the Eastern District focusing on six broad geographic areas.
Each team was tasked with building strong relationships with federal, state and local law enforcement operating in those areas and they worked in close coordination with the 15 elected District Attorneys who prosecute state crimes in North Carolina courts in the eastern half of the State. Building on these relationships, our prosecutors worked to identify the individuals who are driving the crime problem in the communities in their assigned area and with charging and prosecuting those individuals in an effort strategically designed to reduce violent crime rates and disrupt and dismantle drug trafficking operations across the District.
Since the Initiative’s inception, more than 1600 individuals have been prosecuted as part of this Initiative, representing a more than 50% increase in the number of defendants charged by this office over those charged in 2016 and 2017. But, more importantly, due to the strategic targeting of the drivers of our violent and drug crime problems, many communities have seen measurable – and in some cases dramatic – reductions in the violent crime rates. For example, based on data analyzed and provided by our research partners at the University of North Carolina – Greensboro, the following cities saw significant reductions in crime rates during 2018 and 2019 while participating aggressively in the Take Back North Carolina Initiative:
-Jacksonville – 50% reduction in homicides; 42% decrease in robberies; 83%
reduction in aggravated assaults;
-Henderson – 60% reduction in robberies; 21% decrease in aggravated assaults;
-Greenville – homicides down 60%; robberies reduced by 15%.
And, these results have been replicated in communities of all sizes all across the Eastern District. We have also seen the prosecution of the leadership of numerous sects of violent, drug-trafficking gangs across the District. Targeting the leadership of the various Bloods organizations, the Take Back North Carolina Initiative has worked to disrupt and dismantle their operations in this federal district.
Drugs fuel gun violence and the opioid crisis is no exception. Aside from increasing the number of deaths resulting from heroin overdose cases prosecuted, TBNC has also focused on educating the public about the heroin epidemic through the establishment of the USAO Heroin Education Action Team (USA-HEAT). USA-HEAT works to reduce the growing harm to North Carolina families caused by heroin/opiate abuse, partnering with the Drug Enforcement Administration, local law enforcement, community health professionals, and family members who have lost a loved one to a drug overdose.
In the last six months, the USAO has conducted 17 training events, each lasting 1-3 hours with content tailored to that audience (e.g., first responders and community groups). Other prevention efforts include the Educating Kids about Gun Violence (EKG) program – part of the Fayetteville Police Department’s Operation Ceasefire, created in 2002 under the umbrella of PSN and USAO-EDNC. In the past 5 years, 25,241 students in Fayetteville have been educated through EKG. Overall violent crime for this age group has decreased 10% city wide since EKG began. Other PSN sites – Goldsboro, Pasquotank County, Kinston, and Vance County have adopted the EKG program. Other prevention efforts include re-entry programs, and an outdoor movie series to engage the community and create public awareness about gun violence. In 2019, 1,425 people attended 6 movie nights in Fayetteville and Cumberland County.
TBNC PSN sites have worked hard to develop an effective public messaging strategy for each community utilizing press releases, press conferences, and advertising campaigns highlighting the penalties for committing federal crimes. In the last two years, the USAO-EDNC issued over 250 press releases highlighting PSN cases and has held numerous press conferences highlighting TBNC success stories. The USAO has produced hundreds of posters for PSN sites to help spread public awareness and has worked with the Executive Office for United States Attorney’s to develop multiple Public Service Announcements (PSA) focusing on violent crime and opioids. These PSA’s have been widely distributed across EDNC for use by the media and communities.
Revitalized in 2017, PSN is a critical piece of the Department’s crime reduction efforts. PSN has focused on prosecuting those individuals who most significantly drive violence in our communities and supports and fosters partnerships between law enforcement and schools, the faith community, and local community leaders to prevent and deter future criminal conduct.