RESULTS OF THE INSPECTION
Our review of the VCTFs in the USAO for the District of Columbia found that Operation Ceasefire and Safe Streets conducted activities in support of their objectives. We found that, overall, the task forces accomplished the activities listed in the funding proposals, but we could not determine the level of success for some activities because the proposals did not define them in measurable terms. We also found that the USAO's financial oversight for Operation Ceasefire was insufficient and internal controls over the expenditure of funds were inadequate and need improvement. Oversight responsibility of Safe Streets expenditures was delegated to the FBI through a reimbursable agreement with the EOUSA. Thus, the USAO did not review or approve expenditures of VCTF funds for Safe Streets. Our review identified a weakness in the FBI's administrative and internal controls regarding the review of overtime invoices.
From June 5, 1995 through March 1, 1997, the GRUs expended VCTF overtime funds in support of Operation Ceasefire. According to the MPD Program Coordinator, the GRUs were disbanded in the Spring of 1997. At the time of our review, Operation Ceasefire had $123,000 available for expenditure. In March 1998, we were informed that the MPD had reestablished a city-wide gun recovery unit comprised of former GRU officers.
OPERATION CEASEFIRE PROGRAM ACCOMPLISHMENTS
We found that neither USAO nor MPD personnel involved in Operation Ceasefire monitored or reported the progress of the initiative's overall goal of reducing the violent crime rate by 40 percent to its pre-1986 level by 1999.(3) Although we did not determine whether the activities of Operation Ceasefire reduced the violent crime rate, our analysis of the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports statistics indicated that the violent crime rate in the District of Columbia has been declining since 1993. The rate has decreased by 15.76 percent since 1995 while the actual number of Part I Index violent crimes decreased by 19.75 percent over the same period.(4) See Appendix II for violent crime rates and Appendix III for the number of violent crimes reported in the District of Columbia. Appendix IV illustrates the population, whose fluctuation affects the calculation of the violent crime rate, in the District of Columbia from 1980 through 1997.
Operation Ceasefire proposed the accomplishment of three objectives: aggressively detecting and seizing illegal firearms, increasing the penalties for individuals convicted of illegally possessing firearms, and educating youth about the destructive potential of firearms. The results of these objectives are discussed in detail.
Illegal Firearms Seized
The USAO received $634,000 from the EOUSA in overtime funding and $334,000 in office equipment funding to accomplish this first objective. Although not funded by the EOUSA, the USAO in partnership with the ATF, the FBI National Academy, and the MPD provided training to approximately 100 officers. The MPD then established individual GRUs in six police districts. Working in teams, these trained officers focused exclusively on the seizure of firearms and executed operational tactics and procedures such as traffic stops, street encounters, and search and arrest warrants. The ATF also provided assistance in tracing the firearms seized by the GRUs. In addition, the USAO designated a "firearms prosecutor," established a standard debriefing protocol, and expanded its program of debriefing anyone charged with an offense involving a firearm.
Innovative and Effective Training Provided
The USAO and MPD trained police officers on the techniques used to identify people carrying firearms and the police procedures to successfully arrest these individuals. Seventy-four MPD police officers were selected in April 1995 to attend a GRU seminar sponsored by the USAO, ATF, FBI National Academy, and the MPD. The two-week training included discussion on the Constitutional rights of individuals, stop and frisk, search warrant and interdiction procedures, firearm investigation and evidence techniques, and interview and debriefing procedures. Participants also engaged in tactical training at the FBI Academy, including street encounters and vehicle stops.
The USAO and MPD held two training classes in June 1996 as well. Additional officers completed one of the two five-day training seminars that included most issues covered in April 1995. At the completion of training, officers attended graduation ceremonies and were considered qualified to work on the GRUs.
Individual GRUs Established
In June 1995, the MPD established GRUs in six of the seven police districts. The MPD appointed a lieutenant as the overall MPD Program Coordinator whose primary responsibilities included supervision of the six GRUs, training, and maintenance of administrative records and firearm recovery data. He also coordinated all tactical enforcement and investigative efforts of each of the GRUs. Commanders of each police district acted as Agency Coordinators for the GRUs. These commanders prepared weekly reports based on GRU activities and forwarded them to the MPD Program Coordinator.
GRUs Focused Exclusively on Seizure of Firearms
As stated in the funding proposal and operational plan, seizures of illegal firearms were to be accomplished through various activities, including traffic stops and street encounters. According to the MPD Program Coordinator's 18-month review of Operation Ceasefire, street encounters and traffic stops represented the two most effective methods in making street-level firearm recoveries and accounted for nearly 60 percent of the activities performed by GRU officers. Other GRU activities included responding to radio calls and executing search and arrest warrants, and were aided by intelligence obtained from informants and observation posts.
According to the USAO's Criminal History Intake Unit firearm case log and other firearm data, the MPD as a whole reportedly made 2,722 felony adult firearm arrests and 3,963 firearm recoveries from June 5, 1995 through March 1, 1997.(5) The GRUs accounted for 612, or 22 percent, of the adult firearm arrests and 1,309, or 33 percent, of the firearm recoveries for this period. According to USAO and MPD administrative records, approximately 1,700 MPD police officers were responsible for recovering 2,654 firearms. Although the MPD Program Coordinator could not provide us with a complete list of GRU officers, we believe that approximately 80 GRU officers were responsible for recovering 1,309 firearms for the same period. Table I illustrates the number of firearm arrests and seizures made separately by the MPD and GRUs.
The MPD reported that the GRUs made 883 firearm arrests during this period. However, we identified 612 firearm arrests in the firearm case log. The additional 271 firearm arrests consisted of offenses that did not appear in the log. According to the MPD Program Coordinator, these offenses included adult unregistered firearm arrests and adult unregistered ammunition arrests, which are misdemeanors, and juvenile felony firearm arrests, which are screened from the log because of confidentiality issues. See Appendix V for additional statistics on Operation Ceasefire activities and accomplishments.
We also could not directly verify that 123 of the 612 identified firearm arrests, or 20 percent, were made by a GRU officer listed on any training or official active roster. We were informed by the MPD Program Coordinator that these 123 firearm arrests were made by GRU officers but other MPD officers who assisted the GRUs during the arrest were responsible for processing the arrest at the Criminal History Intake Unit. The non-GRU officers' names appeared incorrectly in the firearm case log as the arresting GRU officer, resulting in the discrepancy.
In addition to firearm arrests and recoveries, the GRUs seized $361,587 in cash as a result of their activities. However, we were informed by the MPD Program Coordinator that the seized cash went directly to the District of Columbia general fund and not to the MPD operating budget. If the seized cash was returned to the MPD, it could possibly be used to further gun recovery activities. We believe that representatives from the USAO should meet with District of Columbia officials and assess the feasibility of returning the proceeds of cash and assets seized by the GRU officers to the MPD for the continuation of gun recovery activities.
ATF Assisted in Tracing Seized Firearms
According to the ATF Washington Field Division, tracing seized firearms is an effective means to identify suspects and establish patterns that often provide links between firearms, purchasers, and defendants and known associates. The ATF provided firearms data to assist Operation Ceasefire investigations, and in some instances, to initiate other investigations. Referred to as Project Lead, this program's unique capability assisted the USAO in accomplishing the first objective of Operation Ceasefire. When a firearm was seized by a GRU officer, ballistic information on the weapon was recorded by the MPD's Firearms Identification Unit and forwarded by an ATF Special Agent to a local ATF Field Division. The ATF would then trace the firearm through its gun tracking database at the National Tracing Center in Falling Waters, West Virginia. Information obtained from successful traces included the source states of the firearms as well as details on the retailer and purchaser of the firearms.
From June 5, 1995 through October 3, 1995, the GRUs recovered and processed 257 firearms through the MPD's Firearms Identification Unit. According to the Project Lead report, the ATF successfully performed trace analyses on 84 firearms and was awaiting trace analyses on an additional 41 firearms. The ATF was unsuccessful in performing traces on 126 firearms recovered by the MPD during the above period.(6) The reasons for unsuccessful traces included manufacturing of a firearm before 1990, obliterated serial numbers, no dealer importer information in database, and other miscellaneous reasons.(7) Although the ATF and MPD compiled statistical reports that distinguished GRU firearm recoveries from non-GRU recoveries for 1996 and 1997, they could not locate these reports and were unable to provide them to us. Therefore, we could not assess the tracing results for GRU firearm recoveries from 1996 and 1997.
"Firearms Prosecutor" Designated
The USAO was to designate a "firearms prosecutor" to coordinate the investigation, prosecution, and intelligence gathering of all firearm cases prosecuted by the office. During the initiative, the USAO assigned this role, referred to as "gun coordinator," to three Assistant United States Attorneys (AUSA) at separate times. The gun coordinator would attempt to elicit information from defendants in exchange for possible plea considerations. The gun coordinator, therefore, assisted in developing cases via intelligence gathering, and assumed a distinct role from the AUSA prosecuting the case.
Although individual gun coordinator's styles varied, each performed similar functions. The main responsibility for the gun coordinators was debriefing defendants arrested for offenses involving a firearm and obtaining information on the guns they had in their possession when they were arrested. The gun coordinators offered the defendants an opportunity to receive a reduced charge or sentence if they could provide information involving violent crimes committed in the District of Columbia.
Standard Debriefing Protocol Established
The USAO's first gun coordinator developed a "gun letter" outlining the "ground rules" for a standard informal debriefing. This letter was given to any defendant who had charges pending that were firearm-related in the District of Columbia Superior Court. The USAO enforced a no plea policy for "stand alone" gun charges. These are charges where a person is arrested because they are only carrying a weapon and did not currently commit any other offense. Possession With Intent to Deliver narcotics (PWID) while armed also has a no plea policy. For a defendant charged with an offense involving a firearm to receive plea considerations, the defendant must complete a successful debriefing interview with representatives of the USAO.
Typically, the gun coordinator received a telephone call from another AUSA or defense attorney asking for a defendant to be debriefed so information could be exchanged for a plea. The aforementioned gun letter was sent to the defendant detailing the terms of the debriefing process. When the defendant agreed to sign the letter, a meeting was scheduled. The length of these debriefings varied greatly. Some meetings lasted only five minutes for an uncooperative defendant; other defendants had as many as six meetings of two to three hours each. Debriefings were attended by USAO and MPD personnel as well as the defendant and defense counsel. The attendance of other law enforcement personnel depended on the type of violent crime involved. Gun coordinators elicited information about the firearm and then established a trace through the ATF to verify this information. Subsequent gun coordinators reported following this debriefing protocol.
USAO Expanded Its Debriefing Program
Prior to Operation Ceasefire, the USAO's first gun coordinator stated that he had been performing a limited debriefing function. The gun coordinator debriefed any defendant for any prosecuting AUSA on any firearm related charge. With the initiation of Operation Ceasefire, however, there were too many cases being accepted for prosecution by the office to debrief. Because of this increased workload, the second and current gun coordinators performed this function exclusively, and mostly limited their debriefings to charges of PWID while armed and Carrying a Pistol Without a License (CPWL).
The USAO's first gun coordinator did not maintain statistics on the numbers of debriefings or the outcomes of the debriefings he conducted through January 1996. He did state that these debriefings yielded valuable information for homicide, burglary, and other serious crime leads in the District of Columbia and in other jurisdictions. The USAO's second gun coordinator, however, completed periodic debriefing analyses and reports. The gun coordinator debriefed 401 defendants with CPWL and PWID while armed charges in connection with Operation Ceasefire from February 1996 through May 1997 and 195 were determined to be successful. Those persons provided specific, detailed and corroborated information concerning criminal activity in the interviews. According to the second gun coordinator, 50 defendants provided direct evidence of a crime committed in the District of Columbia, most typically a crime of violence.
An ATF Special Agent noted that the debriefing process facilitated an information sharing and basic communication process between law enforcement and prosecutorial personnel. The MPD Court Intelligence Officer stated that he also attended debriefings and that the intelligence gathered would then be used by the MPD to develop investigations and firearms prosecutions and to solve violent crimes in the District of Columbia. Overall, the USAO's first gun coordinator stated that the debriefing function of Operation Ceasefire was extremely valuable because it generated information that they never would have been able to obtain otherwise.
Penalties Increased for Individuals Convicted of Illegally Possessing Firearms
Although the USAO's proposal did not request funding to initiate a legislative package that would increase the certainty of punishment of those convicted of illegally possessing firearms, Operation Ceasefire did achieve this second objective. The USAO assisted in the development of local legislation, District of Columbia Code Title 22, Section 3204, making possession of a firearm a felony. Although not an objective of Operation Ceasefire, the USAO supported the passage of an amendment enabling the use of pretrial detention for defendants in appropriate firearms cases. It also introduced a District of Columbia Code forfeiture provision to seize vehicles used to conceal, possess or facilitate the transportation, sale, exchange, or possession of any firearm. Additionally, the USAO supported curfew legislation for youths 16 and younger.
District of Columbia Code Title 22 Section 3204 Amended
According to the USAO's first gun coordinator, the United States Attorney issued a proclamation on January 13, 1995, seeking to change the charge CPWL from a misdemeanor to a felony. At the time of our review, the USAO's current gun coordinator stated that District of Columbia Code Title 22, Section 3204 was revised to make carrying a firearm a felony with a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of $5,000. Specifically, the October 1996 statute stated that "A person who violates this section by carrying a pistol, without a license. . . shall be fined not more than $5,000 or imprisoned for not more than 5 years, or both." Previously, the District of Columbia code carried a misdemeanor charge and was punishable by a maximum of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
District of Columbia Code Title 23 Section 1331 Amended
Separate from the original objectives of Operation Ceasefire, the USAO assisted in the passage of an amendment to the Zero Tolerance for Guns Act, which enabled the USAO to request pretrial detention for defendants charged with CPWL. Specifically, the 1996 amendment to D.C. Code Section 23-1331(3) added CPWL to the list of dangerous crimes cited in the Act. With this change, the USAO can seek pretrial detention in appropriate firearms cases and hold a defendant without bond for 100 days until trial, guilty plea or other disposition of the case.
USAO Introduced Forfeiture Provision to Seize Vehicles
In October 1995, the USAO introduced legislation to the Council of the District of Columbia and asked for their support in allowing authorities to seize vehicles that contained illegal guns. On October 18, 1996, the Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975 was amended as part of the "Zero Tolerance for Guns Act of 1996." This Act provided civil forfeiture of automobiles of those defendants charged with firearm offenses. Specifically, the law stated that "any conveyance, including vehicles and vessels in which any person or persons transport, possess, or conceal any firearm . . . shall be seized and forfeited to the District of Columbia."
USAO Encouraged Curfew Legislation
In March 1995, members of the Council of the District of Columbia proposed a curfew for youths 16 or younger, citing the increase in the number of youths who were victims and perpetrators of violence as the basis for the proposal. The law would allow police officers to stop and question any person they believed to be 16 or younger if the person is in a public place after curfew. The Council of the District of Columbia believed the curfew would also be a "natural complement" to Operation Ceasefire and would give law enforcement officers involved in the city's gun initiative the right to stop youths during curfew hours, and if the youths fit other criteria, to search them for weapons. According to the MPD Program Coordinator, approximately 14 percent of all firearm arrestees were juveniles.
The USAO Program Coordinator stated that the United States Attorney indicated his support for this proposal in writing to the Council's Judiciary Committee Chairman. Known as the "Juvenile Curfew Act of 1995," Law 11-48 was introduced by the Council of the District of Columbia, adopted in June 1995, signed by the Mayor on July 6, 1995, and transmitted to both Houses of Congress for its review. District of Columbia Law 11-48 became effective on September 20, 1995, and was set to expire in 2 years.
In November 1995, however, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit seeking to overturn the curfew law. The contention was that Law 11-48 was vague, overly broad and violated First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment protections. On October 29, 1996, the "Juvenile Curfew Act of 1995" was held unconstitutional in the United States District Court case of Hutchins v. District of Columbia. The court cited that the Act violated due process and equal protection rights of minors and Fifth Amendment rights of parents to make decisions for their minor children and to raise their children in a responsible manner.
USAO Initiated a Youth Education Program
As the third objective of this initiative, the USAO conducted a public education campaign aimed at destroying the glamorous and powerful mystique of firearms and at changing the level of public acceptance of the presence of illegal firearms. The objective was to use a multi-media approach to influence District of Columbia residents, particularly young people.
The USAO requested $250,000 for this campaign as part of the task force funding request. However, the EOUSA's review committee did not fund this portion of the proposal. The Executive AUSA for Community Relations, who oversaw this public education campaign, stated that the United States Attorney made a commitment to this objective despite the review committee's funding decision. As a result, resources for this objective were drawn from community donations and volunteer efforts.
The USAO held Youth Anti-Violence Forums at four District of Columbia junior and senior high schools from February 1996 to March 1997. The goal of each two-day forum was to reduce violence in the community by engaging youth, parents, teachers, and other community leaders in violence prevention training. The Attorney General, USAO representatives, MPD police officers, and television and radio personalities participated and made presentations.
Each two-day program also offered a lecture on some of the realistic aspects of violence and drug involvement. Students viewed a graphic slide presentation that included pictures of crime scenes and drug-related deaths. As part of the lecture, students witnessed a mock funeral of a youth who was involved in violence and illegal drug use. Students received outreach assistance at a panel discussion following this demonstration.
The Executive AUSA for Community Relations did not perform a formal program evaluation of these forums nor maintain any statistics on the number of students who met with outreach volunteers. However, the AUSA did collect anecdotal reactions. Based on the students' favorable responses, the AUSA believed the campaign was successful and effective.
The program has generated requests from other District of Columbia schools for additional forums to be held by the USAO. However, because of the effort involved in coordinating and planning these forums and the disbandment of Operation Ceasefire GRUs, the USAO discontinued the school presentations. The Executive AUSA for Community Relations stated that the USAO cannot effectively put forth a message of zero tolerance for violence and guns to the children of the District of Columbia if the GRUs are not functional and are unable to provide a visible presence both in the community and at the youth forums.
The violent crime rate in the District of Columbia has been declining since 1993. From January 1, 1995 through December 31, 1997, the violent crime rate has decreased by 15.76 percent. Although we did not determine whether the decrease in violent crime is attributable to the activities of Operation Ceasefire, we did ascertain that the task force conducted activities in support of its objectives. Operation Ceasefire removed illegal firearms from the streets of the District of Columbia, increased the penalties for possessing an illegal firearm, and educated youth about the destructive potential of firearms. The GRUs reported 883 firearm arrests, 1,309 firearms seizures, and $361,587 in cash seizures. Moreover, the USAO was actively involved in the implementation of Operation Ceasefire and was responsible for overseeing many of the program's activities. The USAO and MPD trained police officers in the proper techniques in identifying and arresting individuals with illegal firearms and in the legal aspects of making a firearm arrest. In addition, the USAO also appointed gun coordinators, established a debriefing protocol and conducted numerous debriefings.
However, we found that the GRU cash seizures were not returned to the MPD operating budget. We suggest that representatives from the USAO meet with District of Columbia officials and assess the feasibility of returning the proceeds of cash and assets seized by the GRU officers to the MPD for the continuation of gun recovery activities.
3. The violent crime rate relates the incidence of crime to population.
4. The Part I Index violent crimes are: murder, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.
5. Statistics on MPD arrests for felony adult firearm possession were maintained in this log.
6. The report did not account for the results of six of the 257 firearms traced for this period.
7. To accommodate large volumes of traces and to reduce trace time, the ATF National Tracing Center decided not to perform traces on firearms manufactured prior to 1990 unless the specific case warranted the trace. Firearms manufactured prior to 1990 result in lengthy traces because they have long histories of ownership and possession.