August 7, 2008

Look to Richmond

Once known as the murder capital of the United States, Richmond now attracts attention for its success in combating violence. Yesterday's Wall Street Journal published a story about Project Exile, a program that has helped Richmond stanch the bloodshed. Project Exile addresses the illegal use of firearms. It combines local, state, and federal resources to prosecute and punish individuals who use guns when committing crimes. When the program commenced in 1997, Deputy Assistant U.S. Attorney James Comey promised 100 percent prosecution of gun crimes. Authorities took their message to the streets. Dramatic advertisements informed potential offenders that gun crimes would bring in hard time.

The system worked. In the year prior to Project Exile, Richmond recorded 112 murders. Last year's number stood at 56.

The word spread. Criminals learned that Richmond was a dangerous place - for them. Richmond officials went to Washington to testify on Project Exile's benefits. The commonwealth incorporated features of the program into state law.

Now, for a point of particular import during this season of municipal government seemingly in disarray:

Rodney Monroe earned great acclaim during his brief tenure as police chief. The city mourned when he left for Charlotte. The secret is that considerable progress predated his arrival. He inherited Project Exile, which began under Chief Jerry Oliver.

Although murder rates crept up in the years immediately before Monroe's appointment, they still trailed the pre-Exile peaks. An effective system was in place.

Leadership makes a difference. Structure is important, too, as are the front-line troops. Project Exile depends on the skills and the character of prosecutors, investigators, and the men and women on the beats. They remain the MVPs.

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