Profile No. 38

Project Exile, U.S. Attorney's Office -- Eastern District of Virginia

Program Type or Federal Program Source:
Collaborative initiative of the U.S. Attorney's Office; Richmond Commonwealth Attorney's Office; Richmond Police Department; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Virginia State Police.

Program Goal:
To reduce Richmond's homicide rate by detaining dangerous armed felons prior to trial and prosecuting them in Federal court.

Specific Groups Targeted by the Strategy:
Previously convicted felons who possess guns and/or armed persons involved in drug or violent crimes.

Geographical Area Targeted by the Strategy:
Richmond, VA, metropolitan area, including the City of Richmond and Chesterfield and Henrico Counties.

Evaluated by:
No formal evaluation is being conducted.

Contact Information:
David Schiller
Assistant U.S. Attorney
U.S. Attorney's Office
600 East Main Street, Suite 1800
Richmond, VA 23219
Phone: 804­771­2186

Years of Operation:

Project Exile is a coordinated approach to gun violence in the Richmond metropolitan area led by the Richmond U.S. Attorney's Office in coordination with the Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney; Richmond Police Department; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF); Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Virginia State Police.

During the 1990's, Richmond's homicide rate -- which is driven primarily by gun violence -- has been among the highest in the Nation for cities with populations exceeding 100,000. In the past few years, Virginia has enacted new State laws (one-gun-a-month and truth-in-sentencing), while implementing several Federal, State, and local law enforcement initiatives to address violent crime in Richmond. Project Exile specifically targets previously convicted felons carrying guns and armed persons involved in drug or violent crimes. Approximately 85 percent of Richmond's homicides in 1997 were committed with guns, more than 40 percent were drug-related, and more than 60 percent involved offenders with prior criminal records. During the first 10 months of 1998, compared with the same period of the previous year, the total number of homicides committed in Richmond was down 36 percent and the number of firearm homicides was down 41 percent.

Project Exile was formally initiated in February 1997 when indictments of the first group of Project Exile defendants for Federal firearm offenses were announced. Project Exile is based on the principle that, if police catch a criminal in Richmond with a gun, the criminal has forfeited his or her right to remain in the community and, as such, will face immediate Federal prosecution and stiff mandatory Federal prison sentences.

The U.S. Attorney's Office, along with a Richmond Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney who is cross-designated as a special Assistant U.S. Attorney, reviews cases involving felons with guns, drug users with guns, guns used in drug trafficking, and gun/domestic violence referrals and prosecutes these cases in Federal court when a Federal nexus exists and State prison sentences or pretrial detention is insufficient. When a police officer finds a gun while on duty, the officer can page an ATF agent, who is available 24 hours a day. ATF and the Richmond Police, in consultation with the U.S. Attorney's Office, review the circumstances and determine if a Federal statute applies and whether Federal prosecution would provide the most effective incapacitation for the offender. Typically, Federal prison sentences are longer than Virginia sentences for offenses involving previously convicted felons possessing firearms and armed drug traffickers, whereas State sentences may equal or exceed Federal sentences for repeat violent offenders.

As of November 1998, Project Exile had achieved the following results:

  • 372 persons indicted for Federal gun violations.

  • 440 guns seized.

  • 300 persons arrested or held in State custody.

  • 222 arrestees (more than 74 percent) held without bond.

  • 247 persons convicted.

  • 196 persons sentenced to an average of 55months of imprisonment.

An extensive public outreach and media campaign to educate citizens about lengthy Federal prison sentences for gun crimes and to maximize deterrence also is a critical component of Project Exile. The Project Exile Citizen Support Foundation was formed in July 1997. The Foundation raised more than $40,000 in 1997 and more than $100,000 in financial and in-kind contributions in 1998 for advertising and for dissemination of Project Exile's media message. The message, "An illegal gun will get you 5 years in Federal prison," asks citizens to report guns to the Metro Richmond Crime Stoppers anonymous telephone number. The media message was advertised on 15 billboards throughout the city, a fully painted city bus (which changes routes daily so that it covers the entire city each week), 15,000 business cards, a series of radio and television promotional spots, traffic reports aired by 24 local radio stations, and print advertising.

The Richmond Police Department, ATF, and the U.S. Attorney's Office also have worked with numerous public and/or private entities, such as the Richmond Boys & Girls Club, Richmond Public Schools, Richmond Metro Crime Stoppers, Fox Television's Black Achievers program, and the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper, among others, to publicize Project Exile and to enlist citizen support and participation.

In response to Project Exile, Virginia's Governor has announced specific proposals to be introduced in the 1999 legislative session that would enhance State penalties for gun offenders. The Virginia plan would establish 3-year mandatory minimum sentences for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, possession of an illegal firearm in a school building, or possession of both an illegal firearm and an illegal drug such as cocaine or heroin.

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Promising Strategies to Reduce Gun Violence OJJDP Report