New teams of federal agents will help police combat gun-related violence in the District and Northern Virginia, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft announced yesterday.
The agents are being deployed in 15 areas across the nation this month to reduce spikes in violence that sometimes occur in the summer, Ashcroft said, adding that authorities are focusing on "hard-core perpetrators" in "the hottest zones of criminal activity."
Baltimore and Richmond are among the cities getting the help.
"Our goal is to make an immediate impact on these communities," said Ashcroft, who made the announcement at a news conference at the Washington headquarters of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
ATF will lead the teams in the Washington area and elsewhere. ATF agents will be joined by agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Marshals Service on the teams, which will be in place for about six months.
The team for the District and Northern Virginia is to include six ATF agents and several from the DEA and Marshals Service, officials said. The agents are being diverted from other assignments in the region.
The six ATF agents in Washington, for example, were reassigned from an office in Annandale, where they had been specializing in gang-related gun violence.
Federal agents routinely work with local law enforcement officers in the Washington area, particularly on violent crime initiatives. Although many were shifted to counter-terrorist duties after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the agencies have been picking up the workload lately with local police departments, and yesterday's announcement was another sign of that cooperation.
The agents assigned to the new Violent Crime Impact Team will respond to crime spikes, particularly those involving guns in the District, said Special Agent Dan Woloszynowski, an ATF spokesman.
With the help of sophisticated surveillance equipment, the agents will target violent areas after analyzing crime data and gathering intelligence from informants, Woloszynowski said.
Some D.C. police investigators might also join the team, and a federal prosecutor has been assigned to handle the group's cases in court, officials said.
The federal effort comes as the District's annual homicide total is on pace to be lower than 200 for the first time since 1986. Through yesterday, 86 people had been killed in the city this year. Last year, the city had 248 homicides.
D.C. police continue to seize hundreds of illegal guns each year. Handguns are illegal in the District, and most of the guns seized by authorities were originally purchased from dealers in Virginia and Maryland, ATF officials said.
Through June 16, D.C. police had recovered 957 firearms this year. They recovered more than 1,900 guns in each of the two previous years, according to police statistics.
D.C. police officials said they welcomed the federal help.
"We're happy to have the extra resources," said Assistant Chief Alfred J. Broadbent, who leads the department's special services command. "They will be welcome and kept busy."
Justice Department officials said cities were chosen for the initiative based on a number of factors, including recent homicide and violent crime statistics and the ability to make an impact in communities.
The other cities selected for the effort are Albuquerque; Chattanooga; Columbus, Ohio; Greensboro, N.C.; Las Vegas; Los Angeles; Miami; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; Tampa; Tucson and Tulsa.