LAFAYETTE — Firearms prosecutions are up three-fold in the federal judicial district that covers southwest Louisiana, the result of an amplified effort to target violent crime, including by enforcing firearms statutes against convicted felons, the area U.S. Attorney’s Office said on Friday.
Recent prosecutions for firearms-related offenses — more than 200 in the district and about 78 in the Acadiana area — are “approximately three times the number of such cases than have been brought in previous years,” U.S. Attorney David Joseph’s office, of the Western District of Louisiana, announced in a press release
The prosecutions have been pursued under “Project Safe Neighborhoods,” an initiative established in 2001. In October 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced its “reinvigoration” as part of his stated ambitions to curb violent crime.
The Justice Department announced in June that more than $140,000 in grants would be available to law enforcement agencies in the Western District in Louisiana that includes southwest Louisiana.
Joseph has joined with local law enforcement agencies around the state this year in announcing local efforts related to the federal initiative, especially the focus on prosecuting felons found in possession of a firearm.
15th Judicial District Attorney Keith Stutes’ office said such cases will see prioritized prosecution.
“If you have been convicted of a felony and you do arm yourself again and you are arrested for it, you’re likely going to be treated more harshly now. You will be treated more harshly in this district, because you pose, I believe, more of a danger and risk to society,” Stutes said in an interview with KATC.
The crime has a minimum five-year prison sentence in state court, with 20 years the maximum sentence. In federal court, the punishment is up to 10 years.
Locally, 15 “gang members at various levels within drug trafficking organizations” have faced federal charges in the last few months, with law enforcement seizing more than “150 pounds of methamphetamine, six firearms, and substantial quantities of heroin and cocaine,” according to Friday’s announcement.
The efforts also include five gang task forces throughout Louisiana, with efforts to prosecute racketeering and drug conspiracy case as well.
For the Lafayette region, the “South Central Louisiana Gang Task Force,” as led by the FBI, “inundated Lafayette streets and neighborhoods to stop the violence, apprehend gang members, and pursue swift justice for those responsible,” the release stated.