In-Depth: New federal task force aims to reduce gun violence in Rochester with 60-day surge

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — United States Attorney for the Western District of New York James P. Kennedy Jr. held a press conference in Rochester Wednesday to announce federal efforts to combat the surge of gun violence in the city.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a disaster emergency on gun violence in the state of New York Tuesday, a first-of-its-kind disaster emergency for the country. Rochester has seen 38 homicides so far this year and is on pace for a record of more than 70, Kennedy said Wednesday. In 2019, the city saw 32 homicides, up from 28 in 2017 and 2018. In 2020, that number jumped to 52, an increase of 150% over three years, Kennedy said.

"The frequency of this violence is only matched by its depravity," Kennedy said. "Just a few weeks ago, at this very spot, a 31-year-old mother of two was repeatedly shot and killed, in broad daylight, as she sat in her car with her 3-year-old and 9-year-old children. The time has come for the good people of Rochester, our everyday citizens, to say ‘enough is enough.’ The time has come for us to take back our streets and restore some level of public safety.”

Kennedy announced the creation of a new federal task force to reduce gun violence in Rochester, called the VIPER task force.

The task force will focus on five areas:

  • Enhanced information sharing, in which un arrests will be reviewed daily to determine how to prosecute suspects.
  • Enhanced proactive investigations and prosecutions, which means disrupting violence before it happens.
  • Enhanced use of federal prosecutions.
  • Focusing on law enforcement’s role as community protectors.
  • Using enhanced federal prosecutions to restore police-community relations.

"They will assign significant resources and manpower as part of a 60-day surge to target the worst of the worst in terms of violent offenders in our community," Kennedy said. "They will supplement the efforts of the Rochester Police Department, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, and the Monroe County District Attorney’s office, who have all committed to this effort.”

In addition to targeting known violent offenders, Kennedy said there will be a new daily process where all local gun charges will be subject to review by state and federal prosecutors.

"We will fish with a spear, not a net,” Kennedy said. “We are instituting a process whereby all Rochester gun arrests will be subject to daily real-time review, by both state and federal prosecutors. During these daily reviews, we will determine whether a particular subject is worth state, prosecution, federal prosecution, or dual prosecution. We will carefully analyze recent shootings, regional data, and intelligence information to prioritize our investigative resources toward the worst offenders."

Kennedy said law enforcement will rely on the support of the community.

“It’s impossible for law enforcement to solve this problem alone,” Kennedy said. “We need the help of the public. The last 18 months have taught us that effective, proactive policing cannot take place until, and unless, the community supports it. The only way the community will support it is if they are being treated fairly and with respect."

Watch Wednesday’s press conference in its entirety in the video player below. Mobile users, click here.

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Monroe County Executive Adam Bello told News10NBC Wednesday how Cuomo’s disaster emergency declaration will invest in the Greater Rochester community.

"Just as part of yesterday’s [Tuesday’s] announcement, Monroe County is getting an additional $130,000 that we can spend on youth programs, particularly focused in the City of Rochester to help provide that path out of violence and help get kids into other structures and other systems that help support them and a healthy lifestyle," Bello said.

The disaster emergency declaration allows the state to expedite money and resources so communities can begin targeting gun violence immediately.

WATCH: In-Depth: US Marshal Charles Salina on violence in Rochester Mobile users, click here.

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Some families victimized by crime told News10NBC the new initiative is better late than never.

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"Keon, he had goals you know, and he was striving to meet those," said Latoya Marion.

Her son, 16-year-old Keon Martin, was shot around 1 a.m. on the Fourth of July while sitting in a vehicle on Lark Street. Martin died later the next day. So far no one has been arrested in this shooting.

Martin’s uncle, Sylvester Webb, said federal agencies should’ve stepped in a long time ago.

"Sixteen years old," Webb said. "Wasn’t even able to start off life. Didn’t even begin life yet so something like, really need to be done, and I’m glad the federal government is stepping in at this time."

"That’s awesome," Marion continued. "You know we need to stop this gun violence. I don’t know why people just pick guns."

It’s not just gun violence. Charnette Grayson’s sister, Latasha Shaw, died after being stabbed back in 2007. Grayson says the feds mean business.

"With feds, we know that when they come they already got the information on you. So you can’t get out of it with them, and that’s beautiful," Grayson said.