When Richmond policemen Thomas Lloyd and Russell Stayton make even the most minor arrest these days -- trespassing, a one-hit drug bust, etc. -- what they are really looking for is a gun.
The reason, reports CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews, is an initiative called Project Exile. In the project, drug dealers and ex-cons caught with an illegal gun are prosecuted not in state court on the original arrest charge, but in federal court on the gun charge. Federal gun violations bring a minimum of five years in prison, to be served out of state.
Richmond police chief Jerry Oliver says Project Exile has netted 600 Uzis, AK's, and other weapons, while also putting away more than 500 of the most violent criminals in the city. "The impact statistically has been incredible," Oliver explains. "We've gone from a city that led the nation in per capita homicides in 1994 with a 160, to where we are right now with only about 40 with the year half gone."
The program works partly because of its name: Exile. On billboards and TV ads the word is out -- an illegal gun not only puts you "away" as in time, but also as in cross-country. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Comey says it's made a difference because, "They are so used to being with their buddies, people they know from the neighborhood at the Richmond jail, at the state facility. The notion of physical exile frightens them in a way we hadn't anticipated."
The success of Project Exile is having an impact on the national debate over gun control. It plays directly to the National Rifle Association's argument that gun-related crime can be reduced by laws already on the books.
Take alleged day care shooter and ex-felon Buford Furrow as an example. The NRA says Project Exile could have put him away. "Exile is the one program that would have hit that guy," says Wayne La Pierre, of the NRA. "You had a felon with guns. If they had caught him, they could have put him in the federal penitentiary for five to 10 years."
There is some complaint in Richmond that federal courts should not be enforcing local crimes, but don't tell that to officers Lloyd and Stayton. They see a program that's reducing the guns on the street while saving hundreds of lives.
Copyright 1999 CBS. All rights reserved.
CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff