U.S. Attorney's office supports community-based violence prevention programs

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GRAND RAPIDS – Speaking on the subject of gun violence, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan, Andrew Birge, explained his office employs an evidence-based, two-pronged approach to violent crime reduction, focusing on prosecuting the most dangerous offenders where there is federal jurisdiction while funding and encouraging law enforcement partnerships with community stakeholders to achieve sustainable and community driven reductions in violent crime.

Birge explained that: “Through grant funding, the Department supports violence prevention programs. Through focused federal prosecutions, my office looks to hold the trigger-pullers and most dangerous offenders accountable to federal law. Ideally, community members and law enforcement officers support each other and even work together to sustainably reduce violence and reduce the need for either state or federal charges.”

In 2020, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Western Michigan oversaw the granting of almost $200,000 in Department of Justice funds to support community organizations and law enforcement partners in efforts to reduce violent crime throughout Western Michigan. Those funds came through DOJ’s Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) program, which was first launched in 2001.

DOJ funds support both community organizations and local law enforcement in Grand Rapids, as well as in Muskegon/Muskegon Heights,  Battle Creek, Benton Harbor, Kalamazoo, and Lansing. This past year, more than ten community organizations and six local police departments received a total of $192,000 in PSN grant funds to support community-based violence prevention programs. The PSN-funded programs focused on the communities with the highest rates of violence and, more specifically, those community members most at-risk of committing or suffering from violent crime. All PSN-funded organizations work in conjunction with local law enforcement to ensure a sustainable and holistic approach to violent crime reduction.

While these community-based interventions address conditions that can raise the risk of violence, the U.S. Attorney’s Office works with local and federal law enforcement as well as county prosecutors to identify and prosecute federally the individuals who are causing the violence.

“Prosecuting the small number of people committing violent acts has a significant and immediate impact on communities suffering from gun violence,” explained Erin Lane, an Assistant U.S. Attorney who handles many of these cases and oversees the grant funding program. “Often a county prosecutor will have the better charge for jurisdictional or other reasons and our county prosecutors do a great job. But we have seen that a federal charge can have a positive impact,” explained U.S. Attorney Birge.

For example, at the end of this summer, the Grand Rapids Police Department, ATF and the U.S. Attorney’s office charged Antwine Chamberlain-Fields with being a felon in possession of a firearm.
GRPD referred his case to federal prosecutors with the concurrence of the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office because officers suspected Chamberlain-Fields was involved in, as well as the target of, multiple shootings in the Grand Rapids area during this past summer, including a drive-by shooting on the city’s westside resulting in the injury of a teenage girl. After Chamberlain-Fields was indicted and placed in federal pretrial detention, shootings on the west side of Grand Rapids stopped for almost three weeks. In September, Chamberlain-Fields pled guilty and faces up to ten years’ incarceration for this crime.

In addition to prosecuting the most dangerous offenders for illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, the U.S. Attorney’s Office prioritizes the prosecution of thefts from licensed firearm dealers, in order to disrupt the flow of illegal firearms into the hands of violent offenders.

“There are no quick fixes; it will take long-term commitment to not only prosecuting those who are driving the violence but also to crime prevention,” acknowledged U.S. Attorney Birge.

This past year, the coronavirus made it difficult to implement community prevention programs.

“The pandemic brought into sharp focus the critical role that these programs play in violence reduction and neighborhood safety and stability,” added Assistant U.S. Attorney Lane.

Looking forward to 2021, there are again over $192,000 of PSN grant funds available to nonprofit organizations, community groups, and local law enforcement working on violence prevention in Grand Rapids, Battle Creek, Benton Harbor, Kalamazoo, Lansing, and Muskegon/ Muskegon Heights.

U.S. Attorney Birge encourages communities and law enforcement organizations to submit PSN project proposals aimed at sustainable, community-based violence prevention programming.

For more information, call Annette Chapman at (269) 962-2181 or email bccf@bccfoundation.org.



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