Toledo Police are taking a double-barrelled approach to getting guns off the streets and putting those who use them illegally behind bars.
In addition to a local task force announced earlier this week, U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach was in town Thursday to announce that federal agencies would team up with state and local law enforcement to go after criminals who leave home with firearms the way other people leave home with cell phones. A program called Violence Gun Reduction and Interdiction (V-GRIP) that has worked in eastern Ohio is now in Toledo.
"The concept is simple: Federal, state, and local agencies work together in coordination to share intelligence, to target crime hot spots, and to make arrests," said Mr. Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio. "Get the guns out of the hands of felons and put those people behind bars for the longest possible time."
"The message should be clear to people carrying illegal guns in the Toledo area," he said. "If you carry the gun, you are going to jail."
V-GRIP, which was first tried in Youngstown in 2003 then resurrected in Youngstown and Warren last year, and again this summer, was credited with taking 154 illegal weapons off the streets in the two cities last year and leading to 21 federal indictments, which generally lead to longer prison sentences for gun offenses.
Reached by telephone, Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams said if V-GRIP works in Toledo the way it has in his city, residents will find their neighborhoods safer, criminals will leave their guns at home, and police will find people more willing to talk to them.
"It has fundamentally altered the expectations of criminal activity that occurred in this city for over a decade," Mr. Williams said.
The city's homicide total dropped from 24 in 2009 to 20 last year, and Youngstown is on track for another record low homicide total this year, he said.
"If it's implemented like it was in Youngstown, I think the criminals can expect the heat on the streets brought by the collaboration of law enforcement to be prohibitive," Mr. Williams said.
In Toledo, some 60 officers from various agencies worked together on the first V-GRIP operation Wednesday night, arresting 19 people and seizing two guns.
Mr. Dettelbach said there will be more operations like that and, over the next several months, Toledo police patrols will be supplemented by state and federal agents, working in areas identified through information gathered by all of the participating agencies -- from the FBI, to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, to the Ohio Adult Parole Authority, among others.
"It's not just about more bodies on the streets, but it's about also making intelligence work so we can move on to bigger cases," Mr. Dettelbach said.
While the U.S. Attorney's Office has been working with Toledo Mayor Mike Bell and Police Chief Mike Navarre to bring the program here since March, it's being launched at the end of a month in which 27 people were shot, one fatally.
Toledo Police Deputy Chief Derrick Diggs thanked the federal agencies for their help. He said the cost of the program was unknown, though Chief Navarre has made it clear overtime is necessary in light of the recent violence, which he conceded was largely because of gang activity. "We have some gang issues out there," he said. "Most of it is gang violence. Most of it is young fellows with guns."
Lt. Brad Weis of the police department's Gang Task Force put it like this, "The biggest problem is the kids with the guns don't realize dead is dead. They think it's a video game where you get shot and you're good to go."
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