- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 23, 2006

Prince George’s County authorities yesterday announced a plan to lock up any dangerous felon who carries a firearm in the county.

The collaborative program — involving federal, state and local officials — would target the county’s most dangerous criminals and increase the threat of prosecution in federal court, where penalties are more severe.

Led by the U.S. attorney’s office, the “Prince George’s Exile” program is an attempt to reduce the county’s rising homicide rate. There were 173 killings in the county last year, up 25 from 2004, police said.

“It’s not acceptable,” said Rod J. Rosenstein, U.S. attorney for Maryland, who announced the program at U.S. District Court in Greenbelt “The goal is not just to prosecute crimes, our goal is to deter violent crimes.”

To send a strong signal, law-enforcement officials said they would target the county’s most violent criminals in the most dangerous neighborhoods. The idea, they said, is to dismantle street gangs whose members are charged or thought to be involved in shootings.

“It’s always a heavy hammer when the feds come in,” said Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn F. Ivey. “It scares these guys.”

Authorities also pledged to go after gun traffickers with the help of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. And they promised to prosecute in federal court organized armed carjacking rings, particularly in cases where vehicles are driven across multiple jurisdictions.

Most of Prince George’s violent crime has occurred near the District border, which criminals have exploited to duck authorities. As part of the Exile program, authorities pledged to expand efforts to work together in the area.

To increase the likelihood of convictions, federal and local prosecutors said they will train county police officers on proper evidence-gathering techniques.

Authorities said they plan to place advertisements on radio, television and newspapers as well as distribute fliers in neighborhoods to alert offenders about the gun crackdown.

“It’s about deterrence,” said Prince George’s County police Chief Melvin C. High. “At the end of the day, the thing that makes the difference is consequences.”

In addition to Prince George’s, Baltimore is planning to revive its Exile program. Both are modeled after Project Exile in Richmond that began in 1997 after a spike in the city’s homicide rate.

Although crimes in the city dropped soon after, a study published by the Brookings Institution found that the program had little to do with the decline.

“These federal prosecutions are not a magic bullet for gun crime,” said Georgetown University professor Jens Ludwig, one of the study’s co-authors. “I think this sort of thing might be worth doing, but I want residents to have realistic expectations.”

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