RPD chief considers bringing 'Project Exile' back to combat gun violence

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - After one of the most violent nights in Richmond all year that left three dead, law enforcement agencies are coming together to try to come up with a solution. A successful initiative years ago known as 'Project Exile' drastically reduced the crime rate and became a national standard. Richmond police chief Alfred Durham brought it up during a news conference Monday, saying he might bring it back.

Durham says he's been meeting with the commonwealth's attorney, United States attorney, and federal partners over the past couple of months and already has a list of the most violent people in the city of Richmond. Now it's a matter of coming together and tackling the problem in a similar way 'Project Exile' did years ago.

"There's a thing called 'Project Exile.' We're talking about re-engineering that bringing it back," said police chief Durham.

With an increase in gun violence over the summer and an especially violent weekend, police chief Durham is considering reviving a project from nearly 20 years ago that gained national attention and replication after it drastically reduced Richmond's homicide rate, which at the time was one of the highest in the nation.

'Project Exile' is essentially about handing out serious and immediate prison time for criminals caught with guns.

"The folks that are perpetrating these crimes could really have a high cost and a very high burden for their activities," said former federal prosecutor, Chuck James.

James worked on some of these cases himself and says the goal was getting the worst of the worst off the streets, and that's what they did.

"Cases were vetted. They were presented to a committee. Some cases would go to state court, some would go to federal court, and it really did allow  cases to be funneled where you get the most bang for the buck," said James.

Federal prosecution was key, James said, because often times it means harsher punishments and more time behind bars. The project being heavily publicized also helped with reminders of the prison time criminals could face plastered on billboards and buses.

"People out in the community knew that the federal governments and those guidelines were out there, and it was a real disincentive for some folks. That combined with a very good marketing campaign let people who were considering violent crime and gun crimes know that there'd be a severe cost to pay if they were arrested and convicted," said James.

Police chief Durham said they'll be making an announcement on their strategies by early February.

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