HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week called “Project Safe Neighborhoods” the centerpiece of the Justice Department’s crime reduction strategy
Jay Town, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, said the law enforcement strategy is being revitalized, and it is straightforward: combine state and federal resources to bring offenders in and charge them.
“What we’re talking about are the people that are known drug dealers, known violent criminals that are living amongst us, in our neighborhoods, because either we have not put cases on them or whatever cases we have put on them have not gone to trial yet or are not going to for whatever reason,” Town said.
Town said it’s a selective, aggressive approach to law enforcement. He’s a former assistant district attorney in Madison County and says his relationships with local police and sheriff’s departments and area DA’s offices should ensure a good working relationship.
“We use a method called ‘targeted enforcement,’ which allows us to partner with our local and state law enforcement agencies at a federal level and we go in and we go into the worst neighborhoods and target the worst offenders in those neighborhoods,” he said.
The focus with Project Safe Neighborhoods is not primarily grant funding or providing technology, it’s action, Town said.
“What we will actually do is have liaisons in place between my office and state agencies that will be actively pursuing and putting hands on these areas and locating these worst offenders, rather than just kind of hoping for the best,” Town said. “So we’re going to actually go out and look for the bad guys, rather than react when the bad guys commit crimes.”
Town said his office will work with local and state law enforcement agencies in North Alabama to identify areas to target.
“And it doesn’t just have to be a population center like Birmingham or Huntsville, it could be Cleburne County, it could be Etowah County,” Town said.
The federal presence means offenders could face more serious punishments.
“Not only will be able to put state cases on these individuals, but by partnering with the United States Attorney’s office and our federal partners we can actually put federal cases on these individuals,” Town said. “A perfect example would be a prior-convicted felon in possession of a handgun.
Town said in state court a felon in possession of a gun could face a sentence as light as probation, in federal court, it’s between 5 and 15 years in prison.
The Justice Department is also hoping that by taking serious offenders out of North Alabama neighborhoods, citizen confidence and trust in law enforcement will grow.
The project is already underway, Town said, with his office reaching out to local agencies and also receiving requests.
Town expects the project to fully up and running by year’s end.