ROCHESTER, N.Y. — A newly-created federal task force, VIPER, aims to reduce gun violence in Rochester, U.S. Attorney for Western New York James Kennedy and other local and federal officials announced Wednesday.
Kennedy says the task force, officially named the Federal Violence Prevention and Elimination Response, will be "fishing with a spear, not a net," and will operate as a 60-day surge of agents from federal agencies to target violent offenders.
The focus will be on law enforcement’s role as community protectors, as well as enhanced information sharing, proactive investigations and prosecutions, use of federal prosecutions, federal prosecutions to restore community and law enforcement relations.
“The time has come for the good people of Rochester, our everyday citizens, to say enough is enough," Kennedy said. “We will not tolerate this lawlessness, and this wonton violence. The time has come for us to take back our streets and to restore some measure of public safety.”
Kennedy was joined by RPD Interim Chief Cynthia Herriott Sullivan, Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley, Monroe County Sherriff Todd Baxter, and members of other federal agencies, including the FBI and U.S. Marshals.
"But it's important to remember that law enforcement cannot solve this problem" Kennedy said. "We need your help. We need the help of the public. The last 18 months have taught us that effective pro-active policing cannot take place until or unless the community supports it and the only way the community supports is if they feel they're being treated fairly."
Kennedy said there has already been 200 shootings in the city so far this year.
“In 2017 and 2018, my first two full years as U.S. Attorney, there were 28 murders each year in Rochester,” Kennedy said. “In 2019, that number ticked up to 32. In 2020, it jumped to 52, and so far, in 2021, we are on pace to set an all-time record of more than 70 murders here in the city of Rochester. That’s a 150% increase in the number of murders in just three years."
Kennedy is asking for the community's support and partnership with the task force. He says it is time to start healing relations between police and the community, and instead work together to address violent crime.
“Since the most basic and essential function of any government is to protect its citizens, I have decided to mobilize our federal law enforcement resources to pull out all the stops and to do all that we can to assist state and local law enforcement in this effort to reduce this trend in violent crime.”
Kennedy says the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the U.S. Marshall’s service will work together to provide support, along with local law enforcement.
“They will assign significant resources and man power as part of a 60-day surge to target the worst of the worst in terms of violent offenders in our community, and they will supplement the efforts of the RPD, the Monroe County Sheriffs, and the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office, who have also committed to this effort, proactively to remove these violent offenders from our streets."
“The goal is not to saturate communities with federal law enforcement,” FBI Agent Steve Belongia said. “We are going to be working investigations. Investigations that are focused on individuals and perpetrators that are committing the gun violence.”
Belongia says the FBI will provide additional resources, including intelligence to discover which suspects are the most important to to go after first.
"We're going to be changing our focus to some extent to shorter term investigations to the most violent offenders and take them off the streets," he said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a gun-violence disaster emergency on Tuesday.
"Gun violence, number one cause of premature death in the United States," Cuomo said Tuesday. "Gun violence costs over $280 billion in healthcare societal costs every year."
Cuomo points to July 4 weekend as the last straw noting that 51 people were shot across the state, including a 16-year-old who was shot and killed outside School 34 Rochester.