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Program announced to fight violent crime in Alamance County


Rachel Berry   | Times-News

Alamance County is joining 10 other counties in the Middle District of North Carolina to become a part of Project Safe Neighborhoods. 

This federal program is meant to deter people from committing gun crimes. The program works to impose harsh punishments on violent offenders and to connect people with community resources meant to deter them from committing similar acts in the future. 

"It's a data driven partnership approach to focusing on those who are driving violence and ensuring that violence leaves a community," Matthew Martin, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina, said Oct. 14 at a press conference about the program. 

A small portion of people who commit crimes are willing to use guns, Martin said. The program is focused on that group because he says that is how to make violent crime go down. 

Project Safe Neighborhoods involves a partnership between local and federal law enforcement agencies and prosecutors.

Local law enforcement agencies participating include the Sheriff's Office, Burlington, Graham, Mebane, Haw River, Gibsonville and Elon police departments, and Alamance Community College's security force. Federal agencies include the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Department of Homeland Security. 

Researchers from UNC-Greensboro studied what is driving violent crime in Alamance County to establish data to be used in deterring crime. 

They found that members of gangs are more likely to commit violent crimes. Those with a history of drug offenses are also more likely to be involved in violent crime either as the perpetrator or a victim. The county also has a higher number of children involved in crime than in surrounding areas, their research found.  

More than a quarter of victims and perpetrators of violent crimes are not from Alamance County. 

At the press conference, Sheriff Terry Johnson warned criminals to take whatever PSN offers because if not, he said, law enforcement will pursue them and do whatever is needed to bring about justice. 

"This is something that is really needed here in Alamance County," Johnson said of Project Safe Neighborhoods. "Our criminals know no boundaries."

Burlington Police Chief Jeffrey Smythe spoke about the partnership with probation and parole to ensure people have opportunities to get their life back on track. He also addressed Sustainable Alamance and Goodwill Industries, who are forming a re-entry council to aid people released from prison. 

Violent offenders are "almost universally young people in their teens and early 20s," Smythe said. "They're not making good decisions, and so as a society, we need to come alongside and help them to make better decisions."

Mebane Police Chief Terrence Caldwell called for community members to be involved in this project and to hold offenders in their communities accountable.

"Understand that the smaller municipalities in this community are affected by this well," Caldwell said. "No one is immune to what we're dealing with today and what this project is all about."

The results of the UNC-G research will be discussed at a community presentation. It has yet to be scheduled, but Martin said they are planning on holding it sometime in the next few weeks.