Last Wednesday, representatives from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York (EDNY), NYPD, FBI and other federal agencies announced the expansion of their Rapid and Strategic Prosecution (RASP) initiative.
Launched in October 2019 and expanded this past September, RASP uses crime data to identify, investigate, disrupt and prosecute “violent armed criminals and organizations,” according to Seth DuCharme, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District, which encompasses Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island.
Since the initiative began last year, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has already charged 18 people with various firearms offenses. RASP is part of the Department of Justice’s Project Guardian initiative, which focuses on coordinated prosecutions to prevent gun crimes.
“Law-abiding citizens should really have no reason to fear going about their daily lives in the city and in this district,” DuCharme said. “Violent, armed criminals should have much to fear. That’s really the goal.”
DuCharme, who replaced former U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue in July, said that balance has started to “tilt a bit.” His perception is that the city and other pockets of the district have become environments that are too permissive for criminal offenders who walk the streets “at the peril of the public.”
“We are going to restore that balance so that the public feels at liberty to move about and face the daily challenges of their lives,” he said. “We are going to send a clear message to criminals, in particular criminals who abuse firearms unlawfully to hurt people.”
According to DuCharme, his office will use federal statutes to prosecute violent crimes, particularly firearms offenses, which carry substantial penalties. Prosecutors will also bring mandatory minimum charges when guns are used in connection with drug trafficking and other violent crimes, he said.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office has added 12 federal senior prosecutors with violent crime experience, while the NYPD will deploy three detectives to assist federal prosecutors in investigations.
“Those additional people with this experience will lead to greater efficiencies,” DuCharme said.
The office will also work with the NYPD and other partners to take data and information from local precincts, source networks and federal databases to identify trends and drivers of gun violence.
DuCharme said they will move very quickly, in some cases as fast as 24 hours, to identify someone where the evidence supports a federal charge and bring that person into the criminal justice system to “disrupt their violent behavior.”
“We know how to do this,” he said, “and we’re getting more proactive, we’re adding resources and we’re going to be out there on the street.”
The acting U.S. Attorney said he wanted to put on notice criminals who, up to this point, have been able to “operate with some impunity, without fear of consequence.”
“We, the federal government, are looking for you,” he added. “When you find you, we will apprehend you, detain you and incapacitate you in a court of law.”
William Sweeney, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York Field Office, said decades ago, the FBI partnered with the NYPD to create their first joint task force of agents and detectives to investigate bank robberies.
Since then, the relationship between the two law enforcement agencies has developed and more task forces were created to address different crimes.
The FBI’s Safe Streets Task Force, which combats violent crimes and gang activity, has been around for decades, he said. This past June, the task force stepped up their efforts in neighborhoods hardest hit by gun violence.
According to Sweeney, as a result of that work nearly 40 firearms-related arrests have been made since July 1.
“An arrest and conviction on federal charges comes with significant penalties,” he said. “If you’re a violent offender arrested by this task force, chances are you will not be going home for a while.
“We fish with a spear, not with a net,” Sweeney added. “We will not tolerate the level of violence we’ve been witnessing.”
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea noted that the city has seen a 9 percent increase in gun arrests this year alone. He said the answer to rising gun violence isn’t more stops, but consequences for guns that the NYPD takes off the street, smarter prosecutions and better partnerships at the federal and state levels.
“We are here to renew our vow, to not rest until gun violence and those responsible for gun violence in New York City are held accountable,” Shea said. “If you carry an illegal firearm on the streets of New York City, we will not rest until you are brought to justice.”
When asked what he thought were the causes of the spike in gun violence, DuCharme said over the past few months, COVID-19 has contained people and threatened the way they live “at a very fundamental level,” which had psychological and physical effects.
Then there were sparks like the killing of George Floyd, which he said rightfully upset people and added a layer of grief.
“The fabric of our community, the fabric that holds our social order together, was torn in places because of these traumatic events,” DuCharme said. “That created a climate, in my opinion, that caused people to engage in what had previously been unacceptable and taboo behavior, including violence against others.”