Richmond Police Chief Considers Return of Project Exile 

The city's high late-'90s murder rate dropped in wake of the tough gun-control program.

click to enlarge Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham

Scott Elmquist

Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham

Following a series of weekend shootings that left three people dead, including a 12-year-old girl, Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham says he’s considering bringing back Project Exile, a federal project that wielded the full weight of law enforcement and the courts to crack down on illegal gun use.

At a press conference yesterday, Durham said that he’ll come up with a proposal by early February.

Here are several points of Project Exile, which began in 1997 in Richmond to stem a wave of gun-related homicides that gave the city among the highest homicide rates in the country:

1. In 1997, Richmond registered 140 murders with 122 of them gun-related. City and state leaders asked federal authorities to step in to help prosecute those who used firearms in crimes.

2. Federal laws are tougher on gun abusers than state laws. In Project Exile, a criminal caught using a gun forfeits his right to be tried in his community, will face immediate federal prosecution, will face mandatory federal sentences and will be “exiled” to federal prison for five years.

3. Messaging. Authorities used mass media, including billboards, to get the message out that gun abuse will lead to mandatory federal prison terms.

4. The numbers. During the year the program was in operation, 372 people were indicted for federal gun violations, 440 illegal guns were seized, 247 people were convicted and 196 convicts served about four and a half years in prison.

5. Results. After one year, Richmond homicides declined 33 percent and armed robberies went down 30 percent. The next year they were down 21 percent.

Project Exile had its critics. Some say it unfairly targeted blacks while others called it “Project Gestapo” and was a threat to Second Amendment rights to bear arms.

The move to bring back a version comes just as Attorney General Mark Herring announced that Virginia no longer will honor concealed-carry handgun permits issued by more than two-dozen states because their laws aren’t up to Virginia’s standards.

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