June 10, 2004 – U.S. Attorney David Nissman at a press conference on Thursday touted an initiative designed to stem the tide of illegal weapons flowing into the territory.
Project Safe Neighborhoods, under the direction locally of an executive committee of law-enforcement and community representatives, recently adopted the 10-point initiative that he said will greatly reduce the number of guns on the streets.
The initiative calls for intercepting guns coming into the territory; creating a community outreach program to reduce gun violence; partnering with licensed gun dealers to limit access by criminals to ammunition; conducting regular press conferences on gun-related indictments; soliciting the assistance of clergy; student outreach; screening U.S. Postal Service packages and conducting a media campaign.
Nissman pointed out that guns come into the territory illegally on planes, on boats and by mail and that stolen weapons are often used to commit crimes.
Owners of licensed guns will be asked to submit their firearms to a "fingerprinting" test, with the forensic records to be kept on file by authorities, he said. That way, he explained, if a weapon is stolen, it will be easier to trace.
Nissman also is asking licensed arms and ammunition dealers to attend a meeting at 10 a.m. June 22 at the U.S. Attorney's Office, 1108 King Street, Christiansted. He's calling the meeting to solicit dealers' input in formulating ways of limiting criminals' access to ammunition. The dealers also will be asked to consider a Project Safe Neighborhood proposal calling for them to fill out a "Suspicious Activity Report" any time they observe questionable activity or a suspicious person using a firearm at a gun range or elsewhere.
Supplying ammunition to unlicensed individuals who use it to commit crimes can make dealers "liable as principals," Nissman said.
The Safe Neighborhoods executive committee also is targeting clergy, schools and the community in general for outreach. Churches can provide forums for discussing "personal accountability and non-violent resolution" of conflict young people, he said, and a meeting will be held with clergy to explore this option.
The U.S. Attorney's Office will take a dispute-resolution training program into the high schools and will encourage the development of a Youth Court program to provide a non-violent forum for resolving school disputes. Nissman said members of his staff have met with Education Commissioner Noreen Michael regarding the Youth Court concept.
For mass media outreach, he said, culturally appropriate television commercials and billboards will be developed.
A postal inspection agent has been assigned to the Virgin Islands, Nissman said, and, as a result, packages coming into the territory through the mails will be randomly screened. "We are going to catch some guns," he predicted.
As a result of "aggressively pursuing gun cases," the number of case files is "up 300 percent this year," Nissman said, citing the more than 34 cases his office has prosecuted since January.
Project Safe Neighborhoods, a national initiative of the U.S. Justice Department, was introduced in the Virgin Islands in March 2003. A month later, at the kickoff of training for criminal-justice personnel on St. Thomas, Nissman said that regardless of whether people fail to come forward with information because they are scared or because they don't care, PSN can help with more and better uses of technology. (See "National Gun Crackdown Program Begins in V.I.".)
Gun violence is a plague to a community and will be eradicated only by community response, he said, adding: "Nobody is going to come from somewhere else and solve our problems — we must do it ourselves."
Nissman urged anyone with information concerning crimes involving guns to call the Project Safe Neighborhoods hotline at 776-4867.
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