Federal VIPER initiative to curb violence in Rochester is over, did it work?
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Federal Law Enforcers promised a 60-day surge of resources and partnerships to try and help curb record-breaking gun violence in the City of Rochester.
The 60 days are now up and while the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York has boasted about how well the initiative worked in Buffalo, James P. Kennedy has been mum on his thoughts of its effectiveness in Rochester. His office had a press conference scheduled to discuss VIPER outcomes both here in Rochester and in Buffalo last week but canceled the Rochester event claiming they were still gathering the data. The event has not been rescheduled and several emails/calls to a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office have gone unreturned.
News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke spoke with other agencies involved in the initiative to get a sense of whether they think it’s worked to help reduce crime.
“The city was experiencing one hell of a violence problem at the beginning of the summer here,” says Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter and because of that his office, the NYS Police, the Rochester Police Department, and the U.S. Marshal’s office decided to beef up the team they’ve had for years that goes after violent fugitives. Investigators believe those fugitives are directly involved in a bulk of the current violence happening in Rochester.
“The bad guys don’t know where we are, when we’re coming, they don’t know what time a day and these guys are tenacious,” Sheriff Baxter says of the task force, “They love to dig and hunt and find people that are out there committing these violent acts and they’ve been very successful.”
Since July, the fugitive task force has arrested 54 people for violent crimes, 23 of them were wanted for recent shootings. Thirteen of the 23 suspected shooters had guns on them when they were taken into custody.
“We are getting guys with guns, we’re getting guys with repeated offenses, murder charges, guns and re-arresting them multiple times,” explains Sheriff Baxter and that’s where the problem comes in.
When the US Attorney announced the VIPER initiative back in July, he also promised that his office would review every single gun arrest for possible federal prosecution. In the 60 days since that announcement, there have been a total of 101 gun arrests made in Monroe County but the U.S. Attorney’s Office has taken just 19 of those cases, the other 82 are being prosecuted by the Monroe County District Attorney’s office.
The hope was that the U.S. Attorney’s Office would prosecute more of the cases because they can hold suspects longer.
“Unfortunately there’s a limited capacity sometimes with that and some just go to state charges and we know criminal justice reform is what it is,” says Sheriff Baxter.
Case and point, a situation that the fugitive task force ran into over the weekend.
“The suspect) had already been charged with murder once and he bailed out, had already been charged in a car chase and possession of another weapon and he was back out on the streets on a beautiful Saturday afternoon…and that’s the yin and the yang here, do we wait till Monday and maybe this guy kills someone over the weekend, he’s already shown a propensity towards violence, do I call in deputies and the Marshal’s members and put them at risk and take them away from their family… but that’s exactly what we did on a Saturday,” explains the Sheriff.
“This particular case that the Sheriff is talking about, that would’ve been the third time that the task force had arrested this individual since the original murder charge,” says U.S. Marshal for the Western District of New York Charles Salina.
The task force estimates 1/3rd of the suspects they’ve picked up in the last 60 days are already back out on the streets. Because the bulk of the cases are being handled by the Monroe County DA’s Office, if a judge sets bail at all, normally it’s fairly reasonable and the suspects can post it.
While the 60-day VIPER initiative is over, the Sheriff and the Marshal say the intent behind it is not.
“We are in it for the long haul especially with this violent crime going on, we’re going to continue to do our best to keep this community safe,” he tells News10NBC.
At the same time, they’re trying to build some trust within those communities.
“When we make an arrest, a lot of times will see people looking at us across the street or down the block and we’re approaching them we’re going up and kind of informing them why we’re in the neighborhood,” explains Marshal Salina.
For the time being, CrimeStoppers will also continue to pay increased rewards for tips and information; those currently range from $200 to $2,000. The number to call is 585-423-9300.