More than 1,500 people have been arrested on state and federal criminal charges in the last three months as part of a Drug Enforcement Administration project focusing on violent crime, the agency’s acting administrator told The Associated Press.
Since the operation launched in August, 1,521 people have been arrested in cities across the U.S. — including nearly 40 federal fugitives — and 2,135 firearms have been seized, acting DEA administrator Tim Shea said in an interview with the AP.
The initiative, nicknamed Project Safeguard, is the federal government’s answer to a spike in crime in cities nationwide.
The DEA — under the umbrella of the Department of Justice — is responsible for investigating major drug cases and international drug smuggling, along with drug gangs who are often responsible for upticks in violence.
As part of the project, the agency has worked with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to trace guns that are used in drug crimes or by suspected drug traffickers, officials said.
The DEA has also seized 357 pounds of heroin and 348 pounds of fentanyl, along with about $24 million in assets since the operation launched on Aug. 1, officials said.
The federal government’s resources provide value for local law enforcement officials, and agents can use government databases and intelligence to link street-level dealers to larger networks and cartels, Shea said.
“By going after the violent crime, we’ve been able to investigate the larger regional groups,” Shea said.
The initiative, while similar to Operation Legend — a Justice Department partnership with local law enforcement officials in about a dozen cities across the U.S. aimed at reducing crime, working to solve outstanding cases and prioritizing the arrest of violent criminals — is meant to be a longer-term initiative at the DEA and emphasize the importance of going after criminals who are committing violent street crime, Shea said.
In some cases, agents have been able to directly trace drugs being sold by street-level dealers in U.S. cities to cartels in Mexico, allowing the DEA to expand its intelligence.
The initiative is being announced at a news conference in Boston, Massachusetts, where officials will also discuss a months-long investigation targeting street-level cocaine and fentanyl distributors that resulted in 14 arrest warrants and eight search warrants in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
“It is a different way to look at it, but we’re getting the same result,” Shea said. “Plus, we’re addressing the violent crime problem in these localities.”
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