Uncertain results for federal "Impact Teams" that take on violent crime
By MARK SHERMAN
WASHINGTON- A program that targets violent gun crimes in nearly two dozen cities and has been touted by the attorney general has yet to demonstrate that it works, the Justice Department inspector general said Friday.
ATF strongly disputed Fine's conclusions, saying the program was in its pilot stage when auditors reviewed it. Several local police officials also came to the defense of a program that has brought additional money and investigators to their cities to take on trouble spots where homicides and other violent crimes have increased despite a 30-year low nationally in the crime rate.
"Following only several months of operation, homicides in VCIT cities declined by more than eight percent, a rate of decline five times the average of other American cities," ATF Director Carl J. Truscott wrote in response to a draft of Fine's report.
Tucson, Ariz., assistant police chief John Leavitt said, "We have not had a more successful initiative for violent crime in Tucson."
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales also has been enthusiastic in his praise of the anti-crime teams, which were created in 15 cities in 2004. There are now 23 at a cost of $20 million this year. The Justice Department is proposing to spend $35.7 million to have teams in 40 cities in 2007.
Announcing the newest team in Atlanta in March, Gonzales said gun crimes dropped almost immediately in the other 22 cities. "We know this program works ... Almost across the board, gun crimes have been reduced in those areas where VCIT has built upon the successes of the President's Project Safe Neighborhoods program," he said.
Yet Fine said his auditors have seen erratic use of statistics and he questioned why the agency looked only at homicides instead of all violent crimes committed with guns. For eight of the original 15 cities, ATF reported city-wide data on homicides, rather than just the parts of the city where the anti-crime teams were working.
A startling 50 percent decrease in homicides in Albuquerque, N.M., actually reflected a drop from four to two, a small change that makes "it difficult to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of the VCIT initiative," Fine said.
He called on ATF to come up with a better way to assess the program, develop more standards for it and work with more federal law enforcement agencies in the affected areas.
The anti-crime teams operate in these cities: Albuquerque, N.M.; Atlanta, Baltimore; Baton Rouge, La.; Camden, N.J., Chattanooga, Tenn.; Columbus, Ohio; Fresno, Calif.; Greensboro, N.C.; Hartford, Conn.; Houston; Laredo, Texas; Las Vegas; Los Angeles; Miami; New Orleans; Pittsburgh; Philadelphia; Richmond, Va.; Tampa, Fla.; Tucson, Ariz.; Tulsa, Okla.; and the Washington, D.C.-Northern Virginia region.
On the Net:
Justice Department inspector general: http://www.usdoj.gov/oig
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives: http://www.atf.gov/
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