Virginia turned down hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal money used to combat gun crime in 2018, rather than comply with federal immigration authorities, according to documents obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
A series of Department of Justice memos show that two anti-gun-crime grants were transferred from the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), which had previously administered the program, in Dec. 2018. The memos say the transfer was necessary after state officials refused to certify that Virginia would comply with federal requirements to share immigration information with federal law enforcement.
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"DCJS will not be able to comply with the requirements and the agency has formally declined the awards," a DOJ official said in one memo. "The grants were awarded to the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) to serve as the fiscal agent for the 2018 Project Safe Neighborhood (PSN) awards for the Eastern and Western Districts of the state of Virginia."
Democratic governor Ralph Northam, a supporter of gun control reforms, and his administration lost out on $665,673 in grant funding that is specifically aimed at reducing gun crimes. The grants are now administered through the non-profit Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police. A Northam spokeswoman declined to comment on the transfer but said the governor supports the program and how the non-profit has handled it.
"These federal dollars continue to flow to communities to help local law enforcement, prevention, and reentry," spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said in an email. "This ongoing program is one way we work to reduce violent crime—the governor has made it clear he supports commonsense gun safety measures to fully address the emergency of gun violence in the Commonwealth."
House of Delegates Republican majority leader Todd Gilbert said the administration's decision to refuse the grant undermines the ability of the state to combat gun crime. Gilbert said the move shows that Northam—who vetoed a bill banning sanctuary cities in March—is more committed to protecting illegal immigrants than he is to curbing gun crime.
"Attorney General [Mark] Herring and Governor Northam have said the loss of lives in Virginia to guns is an emergency, yet they’re willing to walk away from grant funding for a program that has been proven to work," Gilbert said. "They’re willing to put politics above saving lives. These programs work. They save lives, particularly those of young, African American men."
The Project Safe Neighborhood program has been credited with increased gun crime prosecutions and fewer gun crimes. A 2009 National Institute of Justice study indicated cities involved in PSN saw a 4.1 percent decline in violent crime compared to a 0.9 percent decline for cities that did not participate. A 2018 report issued by Virginia attorney general Mark Herring's (D.) office found that the local programs funded by a previous PSN grant were successful at reducing both violent crime and gun crime in the city of Norfolk, where homicide fell 25 percent.
"The strategies that we used for the Norfolk PSN initiative were very successful in reducing crime," the report said. "This is a direct result of implementing the five design elements of PSN. The PSN US Attorney continues to make an impact on crime and has been absorbed into the general fund budget."
State Democrats have made gun control a central focus of the administration. In June, Northam called for a special session of the Republican-controlled legislature to pass a gun control package. Although lawmakers had previously rejected the legislation—which included a ban on so-called assault weapons and expanding background checks to private sales—Northam said mass shootings had inspired a "new level of urgency to act."
Majority Leader Gilbert said the Northam administration's decision to forgo federal funding is at odds with that message.
"If Northam and Herring truly believed violence was an emergency, they would have accepted the federal funding," Gilbert said.
Herring’s office did not respond to requests for comment.