Justice League is watching

Unique partnership dramatically reduces homicides in Richmond

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Mr. Herring said he understood the frustration, but the woman could not have known about the man’s criminal past and the threat he posed to the community.

Mr. Miller, asked if he had seen a backlash from the community, was quick to respond: The law-abiding community, he said, is happy that crime is going down. What the targets think doesn’t matter.

“They’re not happy about it. But we don’t care,” he said.

Much of the partnership’s operational work — engaging targets and gathering intelligence — is conducted by Violent Crime Impact Teams (VCIT) under the direction of ATF. The steep decrease in crime in the city coincides with the fielding of the teams, which began in 2005.

In 2004, ATF said it would deploy teams to 15 cities around the country, anchored by ATF agents solely dedicated to investigating violent crime with local authorities in the most troubled urban areas. Local police agencies also were expected to commit officers to the joint efforts.

“You’re not going to impact violent crime if you’re going to arrest the latest bad guy,” Mr. Domenech said. “The VCIT concept was each individual VCIT city would design its own plan to attack the problem.”

In Richmond, the problem was homicides. In 2004, the year before VCITs were dispatched, two of the city’s 12 sectors recorded 46 killings — accounting for nearly half of the city’s total of 93. The two sectors, where ATF currently operates, are home to public and low-income housing complexes that have long had entrenched violent crime problems.

The teams come under the direction of Mr. Swann, a former Fairfax County police officer and 20-year ATF veteran. His agents respond to every homicide in the VCIT patrol areas and work with local police for the first 48 hours of the investigation. He said it helps to develop a knowledge of the area and the people.

Maj. John Keohane of the Richmond Police Department agreed, calling it “the best relationship we’ve seen.” He said federal agents show up at their roll calls and solicit information.

On most days, teams of about four officers and agents go into the targeted neighborhoods and “consensually engage” CVRP targets. They also talk to residents about recent crimes, gather intelligence and make themselves visible. While the number of homicides here has declined by about half in the last four years, these neighborhoods still account for about a third of the killings citywide.

About twice a month, multiple teams patrol the neighborhoods to send a message.

On Dec. 4, about 20 law-enforcement officials — 12 ATF agents and a combination of Richmond police and Virginia State Police officers — drove into a targeted neighborhood in a caravan of seven unmarked cars. Dressed in vests that prominently displayed the words “police” or “ATF,” the teams deployed to street corners, forming a perimeter and then converging in the center of the neighborhood.

Mr. Swann, a badge dangling from around his neck, approached a group of teens sitting on an aluminum bench watching a pickup basketball game in a park.

“Who’s got next?” he said, meaning who had the next game.

Most of the teens didn’t even look up. He focused on one.

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