(STL.News) – United States Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert announced today continuing efforts by federal and territorial law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute violent crime in the Territory, as part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Project Guardian initiative and Project Safe Neighborhoods. “On April 14, 2020, Attorney General William Barr instructed each of the 93 United States Attorney’s Offices to implement Project Guardian, the Department’s initiative to reduce gun violence and enforce federal firearms laws,” U.S. Attorney Shappert said. “Specifically, Project Guardian focuses on the investigation, prosecution, and prevention of gun crimes. Project Safe Neighborhoods includes our collaboration and partnership with members of our community.”
“ In September, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released its 2019 edition of Crime in the United States, which showed that violent crime decreased nationwide for the third consecutive year,” Shappert said. “After decreases in both 2017 and 2018, the violent crime rate dropped an additional one percent during the year and the property crime rate decreased 4.5 percent. In 2019, there were an estimated 1,203,808 violent crimes and an estimated violent crime rate of 366.7 violent crimes per 100,000 inhabitants. This represents a one percent decrease from the prior year. The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR) data indicates that the violent crime rate dropped 0.7 percent in 2017 and 3.5 percent in 2018 from the prior years.”
“In the U.S. Virgin Islands, however, violent, gun-related crime continues to threaten public safety.” Shappert noted that the U.S. Virgin Islands, with a population of roughly 103,000 people, has averaged 40 homicides a year during the past several years, and has already exceeded that number for 2020. “We are continuing to work closely with our federal and local partners to help turn this situation around. Some of what we do is known to the public, and some of what we do must remain confidential until prosecutions are initiated. We are encouraged by increased levels of coordination among law enforcement agencies and by intelligence information provided to us by citizens in our community.”
Shappert cited examples of Project Guardian initiatives focused on public safety:
I. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) Firearms Trafficking Initiative
ATF is continuing to support firearms tracing of crime guns in the USVI. Firearms tracing is the systematic research of the history of a particular firearm, from the manufacturer or importer through the wholesale Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) and retailer FFL to the first retail purchaser, in an effort to identify persons involved in gun crimes and potential gun traffickers. A total of 370 firearms were submitted for tracing from the U.S. Virgin Islands to ATF between January 1, 2017, and September 30, 2020. More than 90 percent of firearms traces were handguns, with the majority of those being traced to Florida, Georgia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Beginning the week of October 19, 2020, ATF Special Agents and a civilian ATF firearms tracing expert will commence a review and reconciliation of the VIPD firearms evidence vaults on both St. Thomas and St. Croix. Firearms in the VIPD vaults will be cataloged and submitted to eTrace, an internet-based application that tracks the purchase and/or use history of firearms involved in violent crimes. Upon conclusion of the reconciliation and submission of firearms into eTrace, ATF’s Violent Crime Analysis Branch (VCAB) will conduct a complete Firearm Trace Study. Results of the trace study will be added to the ATF Crime Gun Intelligence (CGI) arsenal.
ATF’s CGI encompasses all available information gleaned from firearms tracing, NIBIN, Gunshot Detection Technology, local intelligence, crime analysis and social media. CGI leads will be used to assist in identifying offenders who are illegally purchasing or transferring firearms and the offenders who use firearms to commit violent crimes. CGI focuses analysis and criminal intelligence to precisely identify and target criminal shooters and their sources of crime guns. The CGI will distribute the intelligence information to law enforcement, so that they can identify the source of crime guns and track down criminals before those criminals can commit additional violent acts. Timely information-sharing enables investigators to access and respond to information quickly, leading to the apprehension of suspects.
ATF has also purchased and delivered two bullet trap devices to the USVI for use by ATF, other federal law enforcement agencies and by VIPD. A bullet trap is a device designed to apprehend and collect projectiles fired at as a shooting range, to prevent over-penetrations and stray shots. The bullet traps will be used by law enforcement on St. Thomas and St. Croix to safely test-fire crime guns so that their fired cartridge casings can be submitted into the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN), a national database of digital images of spent bullets and cartridge cases that are found at crime scenes or test-fired from confiscated weapons. NIBIN allows for comparison of ballistic evidence to aid in solving and preventing violent crimes involving firearms.
In addition, ATF plans to provide firearms identification training to federal and local law enforcement in the USVI, the BVI and Puerto Rico in FY2021.
II. Virgin Islands U.S. Attorney’s Office Initiatives (VI-USAO)
Prosecutors and staff in the VI-USAO continue to prioritize federal firearms prosecutions and to work closely with law enforcement to develop investigations of firearms trafficking in the Territory.
The VI-USAO has continued to provide virtual training opportunities for federal and local law enforcement in the Territory during the COVID-19 pandemic. These trainings have included roll-call training for VIPD officers regarding federal firearms offenses.
In support of its public outreach, the VI-USAO has developed Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) posters and training materials regarding domestic violence to increase community awareness and encourage information-sharing.
The VI-USAO has also produced a public service announcement (PSA) titled “U.S. Virgin Islands Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) and Crime Stoppers PSA”. The video is accessible on YouTube (https://youtu.be/9FEUfmCEgAI) and emphasizes the importance of, “if you see something, say something.” The PSA was created to encourage more community intelligence sharing with law enforcement in the USVI.
Prosecutors in the VI-USAO continue to prioritize federal firearms prosecutions and to work closely with law enforcement to develop investigations of firearms trafficking in the Territory.
Representatives of the VI-USAO meet regularly with community representatives, service organizations, and community leaders to discuss strategies for increased community engagement and public safety initiatives.