Law Enforcement News

Vol. XXV, Nos. 523, 524 A publication of John Jay College of Criminal Justice/CUNY December 15/31, 1999

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In this special double issue:

Reducing crime by aborting criminals.

Big rulings from the Court, with bigger ones to come.

Policing presents an unflattering profile.

A DWI strategy to make you sober up in a hurry.

COPS office takes some lumps, but loses little appeal.

Getting a head-start on year-end tech snafus.

The Y2K focus: First target the gremlins, then the terrorists.

New wrinkles in the fabric of the drug debate.

What color are your genes? More news on the DNA front.

Who’s looking over law enforcement’s shoulders? Lately, just about everyone.

Shooting gallery: A graphic roundup of the mass murders & spree shootings that colored 1999 blood red.

People & Places: Personalities who made 1999 distinctive.

Domestic abuse: New questions regarding a continuing problem.

The Columbine High School shooting catalyzes the gun issue.

Justice by the Numbers.

LEN salutes its 1999 People of the Year:
Get out of town!
Richmond’s Project Exile stems a spiral of violence with its focus on gun-toting felons

      During the early 1990s, as cities such as Boston, New York and Atlanta saw their violent-crime rates begin what has become one of the longest sustained downturns in recent memory, Richmond, Va., was still struggling. With a population of just over 200,000, the city’s homicide rate peaked in 1994 with a record 160 murders — a rate equivalent to New York recording roughly 6,000 murders in a year.
      That alarming statistic, coupled with the city’s steadily increasing levels of aggravated assaults, robberies and rapes, caused Attorney General Janet Reno two years later to designate Richmond one of 11 “special cities” eligible for resources from the Federal Government to halt their runaway violent crime.
      By all accounts, what set Richmond apart — and back — was not so much the number of criminals on its streets as the extraordinary number of guns. Not only were firearms being carried by offenders who needed them to “enforce the rules of engagement,” said Police Chief Jerry A. Oliver, but by ordinary decent folks who were just scared to death.
      “After I arrived here in 1995 and assembled my team and developed a relationship with the U.S. Attorney’s office, the analysis showed that the reason we were having such a high homicide rate, beyond just the drug trafficking and the commerce associated with drugs and drug usage, was the carry rate,” said Oliver, a former police chief of Pasadena, Calif. “The handgun carry rate in our city was high among thugs, criminals and good people.”

At wit’s end
      It was an environment in which the community was said to have “thrown up its hands.” Enter a team of Federal prosecutors and law enforcement agents, local police leaders and state attorneys — the 1999 Law Enforcement News People of the Year — who in 1997 developed and implemented a plan to tame Richmond’s runaway levels of violence by significantly reducing the number of handguns on the street.
      The program they created, Project Exile, requires all firearms violations that meet the minimum criteria for Federal involvement to be prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s office. The program’s success has been so widely acknowledged that similar initiatives are springing up or under consideration in cities including Rochester, N.Y., Birmingham, Ala., Oakland, Calif., and Fort Worth, Tex. Just as strikingly, while Project Exile has incurred some criticism, it nevertheless has the distinction of being a program that both pro-gun and pro-gun control lobbies can agree on.
      Although Project Exile had many parents, most observers point to James Comey, the Executive Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, as the official who served as chief midwife. Comey moved to the Richmond office in 1996, after having served as a Federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York under then-U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani during the 1980s and early 90s. He was named coordinator of the jurisdiction’s Trigger Lock program, a nationwide initiative under the Bush Administration to involve U.S. attorneys in gun possession cases. He has been known to call Project Exile “Trigger Lock on steroids.”
      Having lived and worked in Richmond as a civil litigator for three years prior to assuming his supervisory post with the U.S. Attorney’s office, Comey thought a Trigger Lock-type program could make a difference.
      “As in most overwhelmed urban criminal justice systems, when there are a bunch of murderers, robbers and rapists on one side of the room, and a bunch of felons with gun possession on the other side, the natural choice is to try to put the most violent criminals away
      Seen at right (top to bottom): Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney James Comey; Richmond Deputy Police Chief Frederick Russell; Richmond Police Chief Jerry Oliver. (Not pictured: Bill Dunham, ATF; Assistant U.S. Attorney David Schiller; U.S. Attorney Helen Fahey; Commonwealth Attorney David Hicks.

Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney James Comey

Richmond Deputy Police Chief Frederick Russell

Richmond Police Chief Jerry Oliver

The high price of success
Despite gains for police, troubles still abound
By Marie Simonetti Rosen

      It was not all that long ago that the term “profiling” had a certain cachet within law enforcement, as investigative luminaries such as Robert Ressler, John Douglas and Pierce Brooks popularized the practice of getting inside the heads of serial killers, rapists and arsonists to create psychological pictures of unidentified offenders.
      But, as they say, that was then, and this is now. In 1999, “profiling” was once again a term that cast a huge shadow over law enforcement, with a spillover into many other segments of society. But the connotation this time, unlike the mid to late 1980s, was dramatically different. Just ask most black or Hispanic males — or, for that matter, almost any sworn member of the New Jersey State Police and several other police departments.
      The great irony of 1999 is that, at a time of diminishing crime rates and a vigorous economy, police departments across the country found themselves unable to enjoy any complacency or self-satisfaction. There was the need to prepare for and respond to large-scale criminal acts: school shootings, terrorism and, of course, bigger-than-ever New Year’s Eve celebrations. Agencies and personnel responded to natural disasters and geared up for the frightening possibility of man-made computer disasters. These and other preparations were frequently made in the midst of growing, often painfully intense scrutiny from Federal authorities, state and local prosecutors and civilian oversight boards. And through it all was the nagging, unsettling issue of racial profiling — an issue that had been percolating for at least a year and would not go away easily.
      For policing, it appeared, the price of recent successes was going to be high. The abundance of riches that should have come with sharp and continuing decreases in crime would translate instead to an uneasy affluence at best.

Profile — A one-sided picture?
      The year was barely underway when the racial profiling issue managed to find a new high-water mark, with the firing of Supt. Carl Williams of the New Jersey State Police for published remarks on profiling and criminality that were deemed racially insensitive. His firing on Feb. 28 came just a few weeks after the state reluctantly released information showing that blacks represented a hugely disproportionate share of those motorists searched and arrested by troopers.
      In short order profiling would take center stage not only in New Jersey but nationwide. Attorney General Janet Reno announced in April that she planned to add questions about police behavior to the annual National Crime Victimization Survey. And in a development that made most of the law enforcement community sit up and take notice, a bill was introduced in Congress that would require