GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Federal and local law enforcement agencies are launching a “Safe Summer” campaign, aimed at cracking down on gun violence.
The U.S. Attorney for West Michigan, Mark Totten, visited cities across the state today, speaking with police chiefs from Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Muskegon Heights, and Benton Harbor. Their message was simple: If you’re using a gun for a crime, you may face federal charges.
“Under this program, my office will federally prosecute offenders who illegally possess crime guns,” said Mark Totten, U.S. Attorney for West Michigan.
Gun violence usually gets worse when the weather is better. Under the Safe Summer 2023 program, the U.S. Attorney’s Office promised to issue federal charges against anyone who has a gun that ballistics show was involved in a crime.
In Kalamazoo Thursday morning, Totten was joined by Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety Chief Dave Boysen and Battle Creek Police Department Chief Shannon Bagley.
“Guns that have been used in crimes and the people who wield those guns present an increased risk to the community,” Totten said at the news conference.
Totten said that illegal possession of crime guns will be an added area of focus for his office for the next few months.
“What we’re saying today is that we’re going to take those cases, where in the past we might not have,” he said. “And very likely, the people who face federal prosecution are probably going to be facing stiffer sentences because of it.”
The city of Kalamazoo has recorded six homicides so far this year. Guns were used in five of them. Grand Rapids has had eight, six of which involved guns.
Boysen said in a statement released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office that reducing gun violence is a top priority for the city of Kalamazoo.
“We know a small number of individuals drives the majority of the gun violence, and we know who they are,” Boysen said at the news conference.
Bagley spoke about the impact of gun violence in Battle Creek, referencing one recent example.
“Jack Snyder, a Battle Creek Public Schools high school student, was tragically killed,” Bagley said. “He lost his life to gun violence.”
Court documents say he was shot by 14-year-old Justice Chimner, who admitted to stealing his mother’s 9 mm pistol that was used in the crime.
“The emotional carnage and trauma that his family and the city of Battle Creek are going through… are still echoing,” Bagley added. “This initiative, these steps that we’re taking right now to utilize this tool that this team has put together will help have a positive impact, to reduce this type of violence.”
In Grand Rapids, 43-year-old Edward Kennedy was gunned down in a home on Worden St. on the cities southeast side.
News 8 reached out to Kennedy’s family, who said they are taking the loss day-by-day. His cousin, Cece, said she wants the guns to be put down and locked away.
“The trauma that gun violence inflicts on a community, really cannot be overstated. No family, no child, no person should have to worry about walking around their neighborhood because of a fear of gun violence. And no mother should ever, have to burry her child who has been stolen away by a bullet,” Totten said, noting that gun violence has a disproportionate impact on people of color.
According to Totten, 2020 marked the highest year of gun homicides since 1993. And in 2021, firearms became the leading cause of death for children.
“In order for us to truly have success to reducing gun violence in our community, the citizens of our community have to take some accountability,” said Maurice Sain, Muskegon Heights Police Department Police Chief.
However, even with an uptick in the number of teens with guns, Totten explains there are limits to how federal prosecutors like him can act.
“I will not hesitate to say what’s true is that federal law is not set up to prosecute juveniles,” he said. “On the other hand, that’s one reason we’re focused on crime guns because these youth are getting these guns from somewhere.”
Totten said that they would tackle situations of overlapping jurisdiction on a case-by-case basis by having conversations with local partners. Whether they prosecute will depend on the seriousness of the crime, availability of resources, and if a federal sentence is stiffer than the state.
“These aren’t turf battles,” he said. “I think everyone wants what’s best.”
“Safe Summer 2023 will send a clear message to them that if you choose to be a shooter in our community, we will be working closely with our federal law enforcement partners to make sure you are held accountable,” Boysen said in a statement. “We are excited to work with our federal partners to keep Kalamazoo safe.”
At the conference, Totten said that prevention programs were essential and prosecution alone would not entirely solve the problem of gun violence.
“But accountability is an important part of the answer,” he said. “Hopefully, word gets out and people might think twice before they pick that gun up,” Boysen said. “Really, the desire is not to make a lot of arrests. The goal is always to stop gun violence.”
Grand Rapids Police Chief, Eric Winstrom, hopes this initiative will help them curb the violence as we head into summer.
“We are all making violent crimes, especially gun crimes, a top priority for us,” he said. “I am really optimistic it’s going to be successful, make an impact this summer and then we’ll see what the results are, and talk to the U.S. attorney about extending it further.”
The initiative goes until September.