Indictments under Project Disarm increase 70 percent in Baltimore

April 11, 2000|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,SUN STAFF

Project Disarm, an aggressive federal effort to put gun felons in prison for an average of five years, indicted 100 people in Baltimore last year, an increase of more than 70 percent, according to prosecutors.

The average sentence for those convicted locally was slightly more than seven years, with the number of Baltimore offenders prosecuted under the effort rising from 58 in 1998, according to the Maryland U.S. attorney's office. Indictments for this year are projected at 240.

"We're hopeful this will send a message to convicted felons that either state or federal prosecution will result in serious consequences," said Assistant U.S. Attorney John F. Purcell, who coordinates such local prosecutions. "We [want to] reduce the gun-carrying behavior in Baltimore."

The project is the local version of federal programs in 35 other cities where prosecutors target repeat offenders caught with firearms.

In Maryland last year, 96 felons were indicted under no-parole federal prison statutes for carrying handguns, with sentences for those crimes averaging nearly eight years.

The increase in the number of people indicted under the project in Baltimore last year is attributed to a loosening of the criteria necessary for prosecution under the project, Purcell said.

Before last year, a criminal had to have at least two previous convictions for violent crime, drug trafficking or a combination of both, to fall under the guidelines.

Beginning in January 1999, the project rewrote the guidelines for four Baltimore police districts -- Eastern, Southeastern, Northwestern and Southwestern.

In those districts, a convicted felon needed only one previous conviction for drug trafficking or violence to be prosecuted under the project.

The change in guidelines led to the increase in indictments. In January, the guideline change was applied to all nine of the city's police districts, allowing for the projection of 240 indictments this year.

In a recent interview about the project, Purcell said, "We're trying to go after the people who are likely to become killers."

Baltimore police arrested 2,144 people on gun charges last year. More than 50 percent of those cases were dropped or resulted in sentences of a year or less.

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