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Charlottesville police chief hails federal grants to fight gun violence

As Charlottesville struggles with a spike in gun violence, the prosecutor’s office overseeing federal cases in the Western District of Virginia has announced over $320,000 in grant funding for projects to reduce violent crime.

The grants are part of Project Safe Neighborhoods, a two-decade-old program recently reinvigorated by the Department of Justice.

“It’s an excellent program that is freeing up funds for data analytics and community partnerships that we’re working on that cost money,” Charlottesville Police Chief Michael Kochis told the Daily Progress.

Kochis said that his department would likely apply for a grant under the program, which is open not only to law enforcement agencies such as his but also to educational institutions, nonprofit groups and governmental entities.

One of the first moves of the new police chief, who began his term in January, was to assign a detective to work full-time with an FBI task force.

“We’re already utilizing federal resources,” said Kochis. “We’re in communication with them regularly.”

Nationally, there has been an upsurge in gun violence. When U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland spoke in May at a summit for Project Safe Neighborhoods, he noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had reported that, in 2020, America’s firearm homicide rate was the highest it had been in over 25 years.

“One hundred twenty-four people died from a firearm injury every day,” said Garland, noting that Black males – children, teenagers and adults – were disproportionately victims. “The Justice Department has committed to disrupting this disturbing increase in gun violence.”

Charlottesville and surrounding Albemarle County have not been immune. Gun violence has taken the lives of 14 people and injured 22 others since September of last year, according to an ongoing Daily Progress tally.

In December, Markel Corevis Morton, who allegedly led four men on a Charlottesville-Albemarle crime spree that included stealing a safe filled with $50,000, got a 12-year federal sentence for armed robbery. Earlier this month, Traevon Gray, 21, and Damon Williams, 23, were each sentenced to 51 months in federal prison for an armed Albemarle home invasion.

The recent grant announcement notes, however, that prosecution is merely one part of the Project Safe Neighborhoods and that the grants may fund a range of programs to reduce gun and gang violence. The announcement mentions deterrence and evidence-based programs.

Kochis said the ability to work with federal officials adds a valuable tool for local law enforcement.

“It allows us to use investigative grand juries and other federal resources,” Kochis explained. “Sometimes when we’re tracking people involved in crimes, there are people in other jurisdictions, other states, stuff like that.”

The federal prosecutor who will oversee the grant program will be U.S. Attorney Christopher Kavanaugh, whose announcement asserts that he will appoint a committee to distribute the money.

“These funding opportunities will be used by local organizations who are doing important work at the grassroots level to reduce violence in our neighborhoods,” Kavanaugh said in a statement.

“The relationship I’ve had with Mr. Kavanaugh has been excellent,” said Kochis. “I’ve never worked with a federal prosecutor so willing and able to partner.”

The grant money will be distributed in partnership with the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services and the Bureau of Justice Assistance.


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