- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 11, 2009

RICHMOND — Every 45 days in a closed conference room here a handful of police officers, prosecutors, federal agents and bureaucrats gather to talk about criminals.

During the daylong sessions at police headquarters, they debate and exchange photos of about 40 “nominees” — those who have committed violent crimes, other suspected felons and a bevy of would-be gangsters — and decide who needs their attention.

They then set out to remove their “targets.”

That strategy is part of a preventive crime-fighting initiative that is unique to Richmond and over the past four years has produced the most dramatic reductions in homicides of any big city in the country.

The Cooperative Violence Reduction Partnership (CVRP) relies on shared intelligence among federal and local agencies to identify the community’s greatest criminal threats and seeks ways to arrest its targets and file the most effective criminal charges against them.

Special agents David Stone (left) and Darrell Bonzano with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives walk the beat on a street in the Fairfield Court neighborhood of Richmond during a routine patrol of a Violent Crime Impact Team last month.

The result of this zero-tolerance program enforced by a handful of agencies has been a 66 percent decline in the number of homicides in Richmond since it began in 2005.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael N. Herring said the coordination is needed to match a growing sophistication among criminals.

“The way I like to think of it, we’re not going to play fair either,” he said. “We will cheat, we will oblique, we will do anything to get someone off the street.”

For a violent crime suspect, it could be as simple as revoking probation since the standard is less than proving guilt in a criminal act. It could mean reviewing active investigations that might yield lesser charges involving drugs or guns.

Or it could just mean daily visits from a team of federal agents and local police to remind a target they’re being watched and that they will be shown zero tolerance for any infraction.

“We’re going to find a way — ethically, legally, morally — to remove this person from the community,” said Stephen W. Miller, managing assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Mr. Miller said the philosophy of the CVRP emerged from a meeting among prosecutors, police and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials out of concern over the way drug cases were being investigated.

The meeting took place in 1997, about the same time Rudolph W. Giuliani was being credited with reducing crime through zero tolerance as mayor of New York City. But in Richmond, Mr. Miller said, there wasn’t the manpower or the money to enforce zero tolerance for everybody for every crime.

In the course of the meetings, a new directive was issued: Isolate the city’s crime hot spots and target known troublemakers.

“The mission was in each of these areas [to] find the five people who if you take them off the street the violence will go down,” Mr. Miller said.

Story Continues →